Raised in Portland, Oregon, Beverly Dahlen moved to San Francisco in the 1950s. She was educated at Humboldt State University, where she earned a BA, and at San Francisco State University.
Dahlen’s poems and sequences are open-ended and language driven, informed by Freudian free association and often engaged with themes of beauty and death. In 1978, Dahlen began her ongoing work A Reading, which has been published in several volumes so far: A Reading 1–7 (1985), A Reading 8–10 (1992), A Reading 11–17 (1989), and A Reading 18–20 (2006). She is also the author of Out of the Third (1974) and several chapbooks, including A Letter at Easter: To George Stanley (1976), The Egyptian Poems (1983), and A-reading Spicer & eighteen sonnets (2004).
In an artist statement for her Foundation for Contemporary Arts grant, Dahlen remarked on the origins of A Reading: “In June 1978, I embarked on a project I called A Reading, it was intended to be an open-ended work and was based to some extent on the Freudian principle of free association. I thought of it as an ‘interminable analysis,’ perhaps it is less analytic and more free with all the difficulties that freedom implies. I was curious about evading the ‘editor’ as I worked and was interested in revealing facets of the ego of the ‘writer.’ As a reading it was meant to address language, the language of the works one read as well as one's own language.”
Dahlen is the recipient of a grant from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Small Press Traffic. She was a founding editor of the feminist journal HOW(ever), which is now the online journal HOW2. She lives in San Francisco.