Any decent dictionary or thesaurus will tell you that the word map may be utilized as either a noun or a verb. As in “flat representation of the earth’s surface, or a part of it…”; as in “to arrange in detail, to depict, to portray”. The perfunctory reader of Ann Fisher-Wirth’s Carta Marina might assert that it’s a book of poems that provides interesting particulars of the earliest-known map of Sweden (“A/Contains in this most ample region/The Isles of Scandia”), among other seemingly narrative biographical details. But Fisher-Wirth enters the territory of naming and action of personal and national history, current and past, with such lyric precision, such intensity, and, unexpectedly, with the thrill of the unknown, that the reader is transported beyond the superficial tease that the lovely cover of this collection depicts.
Unobtrusively, however, the poet guides the reader in the opening poem: “First/notice…” This enjambed instruction has the effect of slowing the reader’s pace so that taking the journey at a leisurely pace is a mandate from the very beginning. That sense of leisureliness creates, at least for this reader, a kind of tension that propels the action (which is secondary? which primary?) of the compilation.
Next, Fisher-Wirth prepares the reader to embrace the necessary flexibility inherent in the element of time that is so crucial to the book’s underpinnings. The first poem, as with others that follow, is untitled but dated: “October 14th”. The reader is locked firmly into a timeline but surmises, instinctively, that past and present will surely have a hand in the narrative (“Dreams coming down now, atomies of dreams—“) and the reader is not disappointed in this supposition. Intertwined within the narrator’s story of her sojourn while on sabbatical (“in Sweden ten months, two gone already—“), are fragments of e-mails to and from a former lover (“yes, you were 19 and I was 18”), now residing, these many years later, in Paris. With one deft move, the poet effectively and beguilingly conflates memory with current reality, a reality shared with her husband who has joined her in her academic quest in Scandinavia. By October 19th, the narrator has locked the reader into a meditation on lost time as she begins to separate mindfully from the task at hand—to chart Swedish history as revealed by its earliest cartographer—so as to recapture “the thread of [her] life….”
Her secret begins to reveal itself when the narrator provides the reader more than a hint (“…wilder than Olaus Magnus’ Norway/the ultrasound/bloody red screen…”) of a never-forgotten relationship and its aftermath which are at the heart of these poems; of the boy who “never tell(s) her why he vanished” as she—always aware of current reality—harkens back, traveling full circle, to the map “lost for many years”.
For this reviewer to tell more of the tale is to deprive the reader of the wondrously-writ mysteries of Carta Marina’s “angel with the stubborn underjaw”. Rather, I’d prefer to quote Fisher-Wirth as she writes “you will gallop me to the edges of the map/and I will lie down there…” Take this book, “hover at the threshold”. Savor.
Lynne Thompson won the Perugia Press Book Prize for her first full-length collection of poems, Beg No Pardon which was also awarded the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee and a frequent reader, both locally and nationally, Thompson is also the author of two poetry chapbooks: We Arrive By Accumulation and Through A Window. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in numerous journals and anthologies including Sou’Wester, Indiana Review, Ploughshares and New Poets of the American West. Thompson is the Director of Employee & Labor Relations at the University of California, Los Angeles.