Carta Marina by Ann Fisher-Wirth

Carta Marina was the first largely accurate map of the Northern Countries, completed by the Swedish historian Olaus Magnus in 1539.  Ann Fisher-Wirth has taken her inspiration from this map–complete with its lions, sea monsters, and warriors–for her poem in three parts–Olaus Magnus’ Carta Marina, The Coming of Winter, and Les Tres Riches Neures.

“When I was young, Yeats said, I wanted to take off my clothes,/
now I want to take off my body.” (From April 3. In the Restaurant, Page 61)

Each poem within the overarching three parts of the larger poem, Carta Marina, chart the story of the narrator as she travels through Sweden and the inner heart and soul.  The poems are dated so readers can follow the poet narrator’s progress as they deal with old age, finding a lost love, and incredible loss.

In section one of the poem, readers follow Olaus Magnus on his journey into the north interspersed with email from Paris between lovers.  Fisher-Wirth uses a combination of images and stylistic devices to create her own unique account of a cartographer’s journey, but in some cases, the use of the alphabet was a bit difficult to follow and at times distracting.  Readers may need to sit with these poems, allowing their meaning to simmer to the surface.

“But in the booth facing me the twenty-first child/
chews stolidly, gazing . . ./
lost in whatever dream, as her duckling-colored//

braids bob and her jaws revolve./
Above her pale blue jacket her eyes meet mine;/
I look away, look back, she is watching me./
In this season of coming winter she is my daughter.//”  ( From November 14, Page 33)

The second section of the poem, the narrator is reflecting on her existence and how she relates to those in in her life and life-changing events.  But there is also a reflective self-examination of who she once was and how to reconcile that person who is no longer present with the woman she has become.  From beautiful and mysterious phrases like “icy mercury blackness” to jarring images such as “Three skulls form the base of the table,” readers will transition from thoughtful to alert awe.

In the final third of the book, Fisher-Wirth incorporates some musical rhythm through repetition.  Carta Marina may resemble a cartography of life and aging, but the poem in three parts is a journey, like a journey through the northern lands of Sweden, wrought with harsh weather and rough terrain.  The background story behind the map inspiring these poems is intriguing, but readers could find that they will have to take their time with some of these poems, churning over their images like the Baltic Sea.

December 17, 4 a.m.

I know how to find you.
I go where your sleeping
is filled with the shadows
of leaves, where the leaves have
bled their green,
and all that remain are
their skeletons, nearly
transparent, translucent,
and tissue gone blurred as
the moon among clouds, as
the fur on a moth’s wing,
and tips as if trailing
through water . . .

Such leaves are not common.
In this snowy country
they cherish them, save them,
the white skelettbladen–
like us, they have died, to
become more enduring.

(From Page 47)

I’d like to thank Ann Fisher-Wirth (click her name for my interview) for sending me a free copy of her book, Carta Marina, for review.   Also, clicking on images and text links to books will bring you to my Amazon Affiliate page.  No purchases are required.

This is my 5th book for the poetry review challenge.

Interview With Poet Ann Fisher-Wirth

From Carta Marina

December 16

Red taillights lead me uphill, downhill—
I watch them from the bus’s steamy window,
pressing my cheek against cold glass
as I’m carried from the airport past fields and factories,
past Märsta in the midnight
where the old men still hunt elk-moose
till bloody haunches fill their freezers.
It’s not this man or this man, not
these golden daughters or this dream-ravened swaddle:
no, it’s the doors closed or the doors opened,
it’s the heart gone night. The gods
stream back and forth across the threshold.
You can ride it, you know,
get on the dark bus and let it carry you.
That’s how I’ve always been, going home, going nowhere—
uphill, downhill, the taillights like rubies,
past fields where the trees are just darker effacings.

Ann Fisher-Wirth agreed to an interview with myself and 32 Poems. And here is what she had to say.

How would you introduce yourself to a crowded room eager to hang on your every word? Are you just a poet, what else should people know about you?

I’d never say anyone was “just” a poet, because a poet is a pretty amazing thing to be. But writing poetry is not the only thing I do. I teach American literature, poetry workshops and literature courses, and a wide range of courses in environmental studies at the University of Mississippi.

I also teach yoga, and that is a really important part of my life. I’ve been married for nearly 26 years to Peter Wirth. We have five grown children—mine, his, and ours—and rapidly expanding numbers of grandchildren. We live in a very cool old Victorian house with two huge pecan trees in front of it, in Oxford, Mississippi.

I’ve lived in the South for almost 30 years, but I grew up first as an Army brat all over the world, and then in Berkeley, California, so I love to travel and hold many places in my heart.

Do you have any obsessions that you would like to share?

Environmental issues and consciousness-raising are my obsession. Truly they are. I am convinced from everything I’ve read that we have very little time left before we reach a catastrophic tipping point for life on earth. We may already be there.

One helpful book is Lester R. Brown’s Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, which can be downloaded free from the Earth Policy website, and which fully documents how desperate a situation we humans have created environmentally, and how thorough-going and rapid our response must be—far beyond anything now being considered by those in power.

In terms of friendships, have your friendships changed since you began focusing on writing? Are there more writers among your friends or have your relationships remained the same?

It’s true, most of my friends are writers, and if they are not writers they are professors. I have gotten to know hundreds of writers since I began focusing on writing, and some of them have become wonderful friends.

I’m also very close to a number of people I know through the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment—again, writers and academics. But how could I escape it? My mother was a teacher, my sisters, brother-in-law, husband, and two of our five children are all teachers. It’s a great way to live.

If you’ve enjoyed Ann’s answers so far, I suggest you check out the rest of my interview with her over at 32 Poems Blog. Once there, you can find out about her workspace, her inspirations, and much more. Feel free to leave me comments and discuss Ann’s work (sampled above), her interview, or your thoughts on poetry in general.