How, Alan Turing thought, does the soft-walled,
jellied, symmetrical cell
become the asymmetrical horse? It was just before dusk,
the sun’s last shafts doubling the fence posts,
all the dark mares on their dark shadows. It was just
after Schrodinger’s What is Life,
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 (Marian Wood Books, 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Because her poems are often laden with historical references and challenging language, Bierds is often described as a difficult and overly intellectual writer.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.