Friday, August 31, 2012

Ann Fisher-Wirth: Ecopoetry to Honor the Earth

After a successful National Poetry Month of interviews and guest blogging to bring poets together via cyberspace, Upper Rubber Boots is hosting Intermittent Visitors. To read more interviews:

I interviewed Ann Fisher-Wirth who writes deeply about nature. We live at opposite ends of the Mississippi River, living waters that connect us. Her poetry reminds us all that we are connected and sustained via our beautiful Home, Planet Earth.

Ann Fisher-Wirth's interest in ecopoetry began while living on a 600-acre farm and is rooted in her awareness of the fragile and damaged state of the planet. Ann Fisher-Wirth’s fourth book of poems, Dream Cabinet, was published by Wings Press in 2012. Her other books of poems are Carta Marina, Blue Window, and Five Terraces; also she has published the chapbook Slide Shows. She is coediting Ecopoetry: A Contemporary American Anthology, forthcoming from Trinity University Press in February 2013. Her poems appear widely and have received numerous awards. She has had senior Fulbrights to Switzerland and Sweden, and has served as President of the Association for the Study of Literature and Environment. She teaches at the University of Mississippi, where she also directs the minor in Environmental Studies. And she teaches yoga at Southern Star Yoga Studio in Oxford, MS.

Her latest book Dream Cabinet has been described as “poetry of great beauty and searing honesty, poetry responsive to compelling personal, political, and environmental issues of our times, and--aware of the evanescence, the ‘dream cabinet’ quality, of all mortal experience.”

Q: How much is your poetry influenced by the Mississippi River?
Ann: I live sixty miles from the Mississippi River, in the North Mississippi hill country. I can’t say the river affects my writing, but Mississippi itself certainly does. The prose poems I’m working on now are part of a collection called “First, Earth”; many of them are set in Mississippi and are a kind of vexed homage to the beauty and rigors of this place. We live in a wonderful old house with a lot of soul but no central heat or air conditioning. Though we live in the center of Oxford, there’s a little forest behind our house with deer, raccoons, opossums, squirrels, snakes, and all sorts of insects and birds. It’s a tough and teeming climate—especially in the summer, which is hot and humid. Living here has taught me a lot about human embodiment and fleshly vulnerability in an other-than-human world.

Q: How does poetry impact your own life…yours and others that you love: your time, your family, your social networks, your journey spiritually or politically?
Ann: I’ve always read and loved poetry, and I’ve written it seriously for the past twenty years. I teach in the MFA program at the University of Mississippi, so poetry is right at the center of my professional life. It’s prominent in my family life, as well. My husband teaches English, including various poetry courses, at the University of Mississippi, and he knows about 1000 poems by heart. One of my daughters is a poet whose second book has just been published, and one of my sons sometimes writes poems too. I’d say that poetry both affects and is affected by my spiritual and political concerns; all three—poetry, politics, spiritual concerns (which, for me, are primarily expressed through my practice and teaching of yoga)—are intertwined modes of awareness. Poetry is so much a part of my life, and has been for so long, that the strands would be impossible to separate and tease out.

Q: How can your poetry help us to make better choices in caring for Mother Earth?
Ann: William Carlos Williams writes in Spring and All, “Poetry does not tamper with the world, but moves it.” This is how poetry, including my own, can teach us to care for the earth. It can break through our dulled disregard, our carelessness, our despair, reawakening our sense of the vitality and beauty of nature. With that awareness, we are more likely to take actions that will preserve it. 

Q: What advice can you give about editing poems? How do you know when a poem is finished?
Ann: I don’t always know when a poem is finished, but luckily I am in a terrific online workshop, the members of which give me good—and sometimes repeated—feedback as I write and revise. I also have colleagues and sometimes family members or students who read what I write and respond to it helpfully. I do not, of course, always take any given advice. Sometimes, poems never get finished; sometimes they come easily—but I do know that if I can read one of my poems aloud, repeatedly, in front of an audience, and assent to it intellectually and imaginatively every time, it is probably as good as I can make it.

Here is my advice about editing poems: 1) Learn to love to cut and revise; 2) Don’t confuse yourself with your poem, getting your ego tied up with it; 3) Sometimes the editing process will continue for years; 4) The real joy of writing comes in the act of writing, the process of discovery and rediscovery; 5) Absolutely every element of a poem is important.

Q: Do you write in other genres as well?
Ann: I have been writing prose poems recently, for a manuscript called “First, Earth” that I am working on. Also I’ve been working on some short essays which will be introductory material for The Ecopoetry Anthology, forthcoming early in 2013, on which I’ve been working as a coeditor for the past five years. I used to write academic literary criticism; my first book was a critical book, William Carlos Williams and Autobiography: The Woods of His Own Nature, and I’ve written numerous essays on other writers. But mostly I focus on poetry.

Q: What are your thoughts about epublishing and on-line journals?
Ann: I have become increasingly fond of online poetry journals during the past few years, as the quality of some of them has vastly improved. My publisher, Bryce Milligan at Wings Press, likes for me to be reviewed in online journals because then the reviews are easily disseminated via the internet. But I am also still in love with print journals and definitely with books. I deplore the fact that they are in danger.

Q: Can you share a favorite poem from your new book Dream Cabinet?
Ann: You asked me about the role that poetry plays in my life. I think this poem from Dream Cabinet will speak to that.

Rain Stick

                                   I have watched you,
first in the sunny room in Charlottesville
as you were learning Yeats’s “Long-Legged Fly,”

and I have lain beside you as you stilled
to remember just how a line turned, the actual adjective.
I’ve touched your hip as you said me “Tintern Abbey”

or Hardy’s “Afterwards,” in the dark I’ve felt that joy,
seen that hedgehog, those white moths.
When I sprained my knee, trying to learn to ski,

I tossed in the bottom bunk of our hut
as your voice at three a.m. floated down above me,
murmuring “Fern Hill,” the horses “walking warm

out of the whinnying green stable,”
because I begged you, “Tell me something beautiful.”
I slept on our wedding night

as you drove for hours through the Blue Ridge Mountains,
waked and slept again, hypnotized by your tenderness
as you said me the whole Rubaiyyat—

one of the thousand poems you know by heart.
For more than twenty years,
I have heard your husky voice reciting poetry.


We were talking on the phone, I in California,  
you back home in Mississippi.
You said, “The poems we love are vanishing.”

I had nothing to reply. Then after some moments
you brought the rain stick to the phone,
the gourd we bought at a concert long ago,

when Robin Williamson played thirty-five instruments—
the lute, the rebeck, the psaltery, and the harp—
and sang and recited Bardic tales and mysteries.

You tipped the gourd so I could hear
the hidden seeds running down its length,
still making the sound of rain.

© Ann Fisher-Wirth

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