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About this poet

Born in 1945, Linda Bierds was raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and attended the University of Washington, where she received her BA in 1969 and her MA in 1971. Her numerous books of poetry include Roget's Illusion (G. P. Putnam's Sons/Penguin, 2014); First Hand (Penguin, 2005); The Seconds (Putnam, 2001); The Profile Makers (Owl Publishing Company, 1997); The Ghost Trio (Henry Holt & Co., 1994), which was named a Notable Book Selection by the American Library Association; Heart and Perimeter (Owl Publishing Company, 1991); and The Stillness, the Dancing (Henry Holt & Co., 1988).

Her forceful and scholarly poems investigate science, history, and art, within collections that are haunted and shaped by the presence of historical figures such as Gregor Mendel, who leads the reader through First Hand, and the Civil War photographer Matthew Brady, whose glass plate negatives provided the inspiration for The Profile Makers when Bierds learned they were declared as surplus and sold to gardeners for use as greenhouse windows.

"As Bierds explores the lives of others—mostly nineteenth-century figures—from inside out, lyricism blends with scientific scrupulosity to give these poems a powerful charge," declared a review of The Ghost Trio in the New Yorker. "Whether illuminating odd corners in the life of Beethoven, Darwin, Toulouse-Lautrec, or some anonymous child, she manages to turn anecdote into epiphany—to translate idiosyncratic information into emotionally persuasive acts of historical recovery."

Because her poems are often laden with historical references and challenging language, Bierds is often described as a difficult and overly intellectual writer. In an interview with the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Bierds responded to the notion of obscurity by saying: "In grade-school classrooms, there's this notion that a poem is similar to a mathematical problem and that it has a solution. That's very off-putting to people. They remember back to fifth or sixth grade and how they didn't 'get' poetry then and probably never will. But they did get it, just in a different way. Much of the reputation that 'poetry is difficult' comes from this mistaken thinking that a poem has one answer."

Bierds has received several Pushcart Prizes, as well as grants and awards from the Seattle Arts Commission, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, and the MacArthur Foundation, who praised her in 1998 as "a poet whose attention to historical detail and to narratives of lyric description sets her apart from the prevailing contemporary styles."

She has taught English and writing at the University of Washington since 1989, and was the director of its creative writing program from 1997 until 2000. She lives on Bainbridge Island in Washington.

Windows

Linda Bierds
When the cow died by the green sapling,
her limp udder splayed on the grass
like something from the sea, we offered
our words in their low calibrations—
which was our fashion—then severed
her horns with a pug-toothed blade
and pounded them out to an amber
transparency, two sheets that became,
in their moth-wing haze, our parlor windows.
They softened our guests with the gauze-light
of the Scriptures, and rendered to us,
on our merriest days, the sensation
of gazing through the feet of a gander.
In time we moved up to the status
of glass—one pane, then two—each
cupping in proof of its purity
a dimple of fault, a form of distortion
enhancing our image. We took the panes
with us from cottage to cottage,
moth-horn and glass, and wedged up
the misfitted gaps with a poultice
of gunny and wax. When woodsmoke
darkened our bricks, we gave
to the windowsills a lacquer
of color—clear blue with a lattice
of yellow: a primary entrance and exit
for light. And often, walking home
from the river and small cheese shop,
we would squint their colors to a sapling
green, and remember the hull
of that early body, the slap of fear
we suffered there, then the little wash
of recovery that is our fashion—how
we stroked to her bones a cadenced droning,
and took back from her absence, our
amber, half-literal method of sight.

From The Ghost Trio by Linda Bierds (Henry Holt and Company, 1994). Copyright © 1994 by Linda Bierds. Appears courtesy of the author.

From The Ghost Trio by Linda Bierds (Henry Holt and Company, 1994). Copyright © 1994 by Linda Bierds. Appears courtesy of the author.

Linda Bierds

Linda Bierds

Linda Bierds was raised in Anchorage, Alaska, and attended the University of University of Washington, where she received her BA in 1969 and her MA in 1971.

by this poet

poem
     1.

In the windless late sunlight of August,
my father set fire to a globe of twine. At his back,
the harvested acres of bluegrass and timothy
rippled. I watched from a shallow hill
as the globe, chained to the flank of his pickup truck,
galloped and bucked down a yellow row, arced
at the fire trench,
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