Born in Houston, Texas, in 1942, Bertram Harry Fairchild, Jr., grew up in small oilfield and farming towns in Texas, Oklahoma, and southwestern Kansas. In high school and occasionally while attending college at the University of Kansas, where he received his B.A. in English in 1964 and his M.A. in 1968, Fairchild worked in his father’s lathe shop. The lives of his high school friends and of his fellow workers figure prominently in his poems, where they are presented in dramatic contexts. The machinery of the lathe shop takes on aesthetic dimensions in his poems, as do the minimalistic, sometimes raw landscapes of marginal towns: weary hardware stores, alternately dusty and muddy roads, and raging teenagers hurtling recklessly through summer nights and trying to defeat boredom with fast cars and beer.
Fairchild configures himself as a first-person narrator and presumed protagonist in many of his most effective poems. For example, although he most likely embellishes his memories in various ways in “The Blue Buick,” the long narrative poem (nearly thirty pages) at the center of Early Occult Memory Systems of the Lower Midwest, it must be read as a sort of Bildungsgedicht (poem of the writer’s coming of age) and as a Künstlergedicht (poem of the writer’s coming to vocation) as well. The Buick belongs to a couple named Roy and Maria, whose appearance in the small town of Liberal, Kansas, introduces the speaker (perhaps equal parts Fairchild and imagined character) to the outer world of Paris, ballet, the poet John Keats, the composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the philosopher Giordano Bruno, and the country music singer Patsy Cline.
Following receipt of his master’s degree, Fairchild was an instructor at the University of Nebraska-Kearney (1968-1970) and then began his studies for the Ph.D. at the University of Tulsa, where he was employed as a teaching fellow (1970-1973). After completing his doctorate, he taught for three years (1973-1976) as an assistant professor at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, then for seven years (1976-1983) as an associate professor at Texas Women’s University in Denton. From 1983 to 2006, he taught at California State University in San Bernardino, where he settled with his wife and family.