Linda Bierds was born and raised in Anchorage, Alaska and earned her BA and MA, with an emphasis in fiction, from the University of Washington. Bierds credits her poetry’s distinct style and interests to her early work as a fiction writer. She spoke to Contemporary Authors about life after receiving her degree: “Once on my own, writing each morning before going to a part-time job as a file clerk, it was poetry that attracted me. In fact, I have written only poetry since receiving the degree. My early training in fiction, however, informs all of my work and results in poems that have been described as ‘lyrical narratives.’” Bierds’s “lyrical narratives” deal primarily with history and science, and she frequently employs dramatic monologue—using characters ranging from Philip I of Spain to Albrecht Dürer—to render unique the historical circumstances of individual speakers. In part, working with personae allows Bierds to explore definitions of selfhood while escaping confession. In Octopus Jeff Encke noted that “Bierds’ personae collectively strive to mend modern fragmentation, not to herald a return to a premodern state of absolute certainty—hardly that!—but to affirm the essentially human character of this striving.” David Baker, writing in the Kenyon Review, observed that Bierds undertakes “a fascinating investigation of historical characters in the midst of discovery, invention, travail, and… dramatic understanding.” Baker, who described Bierds's verse as “long, uneven lines and equally uneven stanzas—creating a ragged, prose-like density,” declared that “Bierds chooses to dramatize the more particular, critical moments in the lives of others so we might, for ourselves, determine how to invent, discover, create.” Bierds herself told Contemporary Authors: “I find no greater joy in the process of writing a poem than in those hours of research needed to create its world. It is during those hours that the borders of time slip away. If successful, the resulting poem will maintain that fusion of times and will create, for the moments it is read, a kind of eternity, the kind the imagination renders.”
Known for their erudition, dense verbal surfaces, and scientific grounding, Bierds’s poems navigate the boundaries of consciousness, poetry, history, and science. Encke described Bierds as writing a “high sentence,” adding that she “approaches each poem, as Fellini approached film, with an infinite capacity for wonder. The principal strengths of her poetry are its otherworldly detail and consistently sensuous music, subtly controlled.” Bierds’s poetry is often the product of sustained scholarship, and she has occasionally been charged with obscurity. However, Bierds has argued that poetry has no “one answer,” and “art thrives on diversity, not conformity.”
Bierds’s many collections of poetry include Flights of the Harvest Mare (1985); Heart and Perimeter (1991); The Ghost Trio (1994), which was a Notable Book Selection by the American Library Association; The Seconds (2001); First Hand (2005); and Flight: New and Selected Poems (2008). In Blackbird Susan Settlemyre Williams praised the scope and persistence of Bierds’s vision: “Flight …with its thirty-four-year perspective on her career, strongly suggests that Bierds is writing, if not in, then at least out of the Northern Renaissance, that period and culture in which Dutch, Flemish, and German artists and scientists imposed their own sensibilities on the spirit of discovery and invention that began to the south. Like those old discoverers, Bierds’s poetry explores the trajectory of human possibility.” Bierds is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, the Poetry Society of America, and the MacArthur Foundation. She teaches English and writing at the University of Washington, and lives on Bainbridge Island.
Credit Northwest Corporation, Seattle, WA, editor, 1971-80; University of Washington, Seattle, information specialist and part-time lecturer, 1981-91, full-time lecturer in English, 1991-94; senior lecturer 1994-96; associate professor 1996-98; professor 1998—; writer.
- Snaring the Flightless Birds (chapbook), Allegany Mountain Press, 1982.
- Flights of the Harvest-Mare, Ahsahta Press, 1985.
- Off the Aleutian Chain (chapbook), L'Epervier Press, 1985.
- The Stillness, the Dancing, Holt (New York, NY), 1988.
- Heart and Perimeter, Holt (New York, NY), 1991.
- Companions for the Slow Rowing (chapbook), Sea Pen Press and Paper Mill, 1991.
- The Ghost Trio, Holt (New York, NY), 1994.
- The Profile Makers, Holt (New York, NY), 1997.
- The Seconds, G.P. Putnam’s Sons (New York, NY), 2001.
- First Hand: Poems, G.P. Putnam’s Sons (New York, NY), 2005.
- Flight: New and Selected Poems, G.P. Putnam’s Sons (New York, NY), 2008.
Work represented in anthologies, including Windflower Almanac, edited by Ted Kooser, Windflower Press, 1980; The Point Riders Great Plains Poetry Anthology, edited by Arn Henderson and Frank Parman, Point Riders Press, 1982; Rain in the Forest, Light in the Trees: Contemporary Poetry from the Northwest, edited by Rich Ives, Owl Creek Press, 1983; New American Poets of the Nineties, edited by Jack Myers, David R. Godine, 1991; Women Writers from Antiquity to Now, edited by Aliki Barnstone, Schocken Books, 1992. Contributor to periodicals, including Atlantic Monthly, Black Warrior Review, Bloomsbury Review, Carolina Quarterly, Columbia, Cutbank, Fiddlehead, Field, Hudson Review, Indiana Review, The Journal, Kenyon Review, Massachusetts Review, New England Review, New Letters, New Yorker, New York Times, Outerbridge, Parnassus, Poetry Northwest, Poetry Now, Quarterly West, Seattle Times, Threepenny Review and Wind.
- Field, spring, 1989, pp. 86-93.
- Kenyon Review, winter, 1993, pp. 184-192.
- Washington Post, December 22, 1991, p. 11.
- Women's Review of Books, May, 1996, p. 19.
Poems By LINDA BIERDS
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Audio & PodcastsPoetry Off the Shelf
Producer Marcie Sillman profiles poet Linda Bierds.