poet

Linda Bierds

Wilmington , DE , United States
Linda Bierds

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 First Hand (Putnam, 2005), The Seconds (2001), The Profile Makers (1997), The Ghost Trio (1994), which was named a Notable Book Selection by the American Library Association, Heart and Perimeter (1991), and The Stillness, the Dancing (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," declares 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Because her poems are often laden with historical references and challenging language, Bierds is often described as a difficult and overly-intellectual writer.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 responds 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.

by this poet

poem
". . . tomorrow I look forward to a greater harvest."
     —Charles Darwin, 1832


Month after dry month, then suddenly
a brief rain has delivered to the fractured hillsides
a haze of grass. So sparse it might be
a figment of the heart. Yet its path
on the outstretched hand is true—brush and retreat—
like the
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,
poem
Osseous, aqueous, cardiac, hepatic—
back from bone the echoes stroke, back
from the halved heart, the lungs
three years of weightlessness have cinched to gills.
From a leather chaise, the astronaut’s withered legs
dangle, as back they come, sounds
a beaked percussion hammer startles into shape.
The physician