Born in Aurora, Illinois, of a father born and raised in Valparaiso, Chile (into a German-speaking household) and a mother born and raised on a fruit farm in southwest Michigan (into a German–speaking household), I moved to Eugene, Oregon, more than forty years ago, to pursue my master of fine arts, not speaking a word of German (though I do possess school-learned, conversational Spanish). I have lived here ever since. (And have, by now, acquired conversational German, as well.)
With the surname Wendt, meaning “nomad, wanderer,” I fully expected, from earliest childhood, to do what my parents had done; my destiny, like theirs, was to some day make my life somewhere else. Two of the main themes, then, that weave throughout all of my work are my search for the meaning of home and the clash between our human need for roots and our American sense of “manifest destiny,” with all of its noble as well as ugly manifestations. This theme first appears, though in its infancy, in my first book of poems, Moving the House (chosen for BOA Editions by William Stafford, 1980), its title intended to work both as an understated metaphor for our “American condition” as well as a reference to an actual event: my husband’s and my buying from MacDonald’s Hamburgers, in 1972, an old bungalow scheduled for demolition, and moving it to a vacant lot halfway across Eugene.
Another main theme in my work—the result of values instilled in my early years in the Midwest, which matured, as I matured into adulthood, in Oregon, as well as during considerable travel over the years, including brief periods of living and teaching, as a visiting writer, in other states in the American West as well as in Europe—is of the countless ways our lives here at home connect to a larger, global, infinitely fragile, human community. My next four books—Singing the Mozart Requiem (Brietenbush Books, Winner of the 1987 Oregon Book Award), The Angle of Sharpest Ascending (Word Press, winner of the 2003 Yellowglen Award), Surgeonfish (WordTech Editions, winner of the 2004 Editions Prize), and Evensong (Truman State University Press, 2011, nominated for the Pulitzer Prize)—each contain poems set in Oregon, as well as other states in the American West and/or in Europe.
There is yet one other way I have, for many years, related to the place I live and the places I have visited: as an observer of the delicate environmental balance that exists, wherever I am, and of the ways in which it is threatened.
Not all of my work of “place,” however, carries these overarching themes. As in some of the poems I submit today, I often find myself, when living or visiting places new to me, responding in a wholly subjective way to what I find there, be it glorious or despicable or something in between.