Location is all about compromise. New Yorkers deal with a 2:1 ratio of switchblades to people in exchange for an art community that is inherently flush. Sure, they have pigeons and expletives flying at their heads most days, but they also have a hell of a selection when it comes to high culture. Boise, on the other hand, is a friendly little "town" that begs the reinstatement of tether posts (fer the horses and wagons) and an old, spectacled woman to run the community telegraph. But every now and then, despite our size and podunk reputation, we manage to attract "big city" talent.
Such was the case three years ago when Cort Conley, literature director for the Idaho Commission on the Arts, persuaded three notable authors to speak in conjunction with their duties as panelists for the Fellowship and Writer-in-Residence Awards.
"The event was so popular that people were down in the basement watching monitors. It was jam-packed, and Cort decided we had to do it again," said ICA artist services director, Barbara Garrett. She explained that in keeping with the hope of such treats going from rare to somewhat regular, ICA and Log Cabin Literary Center (bless their bookish hearts) teamed up again this year to recruit a trio of accredited yet humble wordsmiths—Ron Carlson, Linda Bierds and Merrill Gilfillan.
For Ron Carlson, professor of creative writing and English at Arizona State University, this event marks his second appearance in Boise. Since the last time, Carlson's work has garnered serious acclaim and now includes five books of fiction, several collections of short stories and some commissioned work for prestigious magazines like Harper's, Gentlemen's Quarterly, Esquire and anthologies like Norton, Best American Short Stories and Sudden Fiction. When he is not cutting his teeth on new methodology, he also hosts a public television show in Scottsdale, Arizona where he lives with his wife and two sons.
Merrill Gilfillan is an author loved more by his peers than his public, a testament to the technical quality and purity of his work. While not the biggest name in the business, his talent has been touted as being at "the highest level of the writer's art," and his nine books range from poetry to prose to creative non-fiction. He is an honors graduate from the University of Michigan with an MFA in poetry from Iowa Writer's Workshop and a past recipient of the PEN Award and Western States Book Award. Rather than using such accolades to gain tenure or captive audiences, Gilfillan prefers relative anonymity in his hometown of Boulder, Colorado and doing the occasional freelance edit—just to stay sharp.
Rounding out the group, reclusive poet/professor Linda Bierds never writes more than one poem at a time and seldom appears in public. Despite publishing six collections of verse and over 22 short poems in the New Yorker alone, money was never a part of the deal for Bierds—that is, until she received a "genius grant" from the MacArthur Foundation to the tune of $320,000. Shocked and flattered, Bierds commented: "The MacArthur has certainly given me increased confidence in my work, but it has also made it more difficult to complete a poem. I'm much more self-critical now. I keep thinking people will look at what I write and think, 'Well, here's something by that "genius." What's so great about this poem?" What's so great is the meticulous language, historical accuracy and allusions that abound in Bierds' work. When inspiration strikes, she keeps in mind a "constant phantom reader" and strives for clarity rather than imposed meaning. She has been called an "arch foe" of deliberate obscurity and the thought that poetry must be understood "correctly" rather than personally. Aside from her quiet poise, she promises to bring a distinctly feminine, willfully sparse lyricism to the event (not to mention poetry that doesn't rhyme).
"A lot of the time, artists get to a point in their careers when they want to give back," Garrett said, "and this will be a great opportunity for the community to share in their talent and expertise."
"Coasts of Idaho II," Saturday, April 10, 7 p.m., Log Cabin Literary Center, 801 S. Capitol Blvd. Free to the public with tickets available at 331-8000.