Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Writing Life ~ Linda Bierds Workshop at Richard Hugo House

"Honor the images that arrest you."

This afternoon I re-entered the world of the student. I loved taking notes, listening to others, and even raising my hand. What a pleasure to reclaim the role of learner. Linda Bierds teaches with an air of grace and respect for all the questions and insights that people bring to the table. It was  magical to spend the afternoon in her company. The topic of the class was what to do when you're stuck; when the poem just won't come and how to think about different structures for poetry within the world of free verse. Here is just a little from my pages of notes.

"Respect the unconscious mind. Honor scrappyness."  Bierds spoke at length on the way she uses her notebook. She said those scraps, the images that arrest us, shouldn't have to mean something before we accept them into our notebooks. Don't ask, can I possibly use these together?

She asked us to speak to where poems come from. How do you start a poem? She then gave us the two impulses recognized in everyone's comments: that poems either are born out of rhythm or out of image. She attributed rhythm to what Stanley Kunitz would propose. Before language, you receive the internal sense of rhythm while Seamus Heaney would say he starts with the image thrown up, (or dug up) the image that comes from our subconscious.

Much of what she spoke of and showed us in different poems was ideas about poetry that perhaps many of us knew, but we knew by instinct, not by naming. For example, the monostrophe or single stanza poems provided one seamless progression. Reader, take a deep breath and then dive in. There is a leveling device at work that gives everything an equal weight.The effect is more a meditation, an anti-narrative. The fluidity trumps any of the information within the poem. Repetition, long run-on sentences, present participles are all part of how the single stanza poem does its work. A cataloging, an invocation, a continuous present ...

Should you get a chance to take a workshop from this gentle, brilliant poet --- do it!


  1. I took a workshop with Martin Espada last fall and felt the same way -- it's great to be a student! Your ekphrasis workshop was amazing, too. Hugo House is the best! I wish I could do the Doty workshop this weekend, but I have the kids ;-)

  2. I heartily concur. Linda has been teaching a master class at the Rainier Writing Workshop MFA program each summer. Her graciousness is a gift that I will always treasure - AND she's the one who sent me back to my notebook, which has helped my writing immensely. If you can take a workshop with her, by all means, make it happen.

  3. Such a rare combination of compassionate and brilliant. She seems to have a good deal of balance and knows how to protect herself from overly zealous students as well.

  4. I'd love to take a workshop with Linda...!