Carta Marina

(Wings Press, 2009)

Ann Fisher-Wirth began Carta Marina after a phone conversation with her daughter, Jessica Fisher, who is also a poet. As the author describes it:

I was telling her about this wonderful map I had discovered at the Carolina Museum in Uppsala, and she said, “Write poems about the map.” “Oh,” I replied, “I might write a poem about it,” and she said, “I said write poems about the map.” The next day, I went to the museum, sat on the floor in front of the wall-sized glass case that held the map, and began to write. The poem bears all the traces of its coming into existence. It unfolds as the year unfolded; it weaves together the various strands of which the year, with its descent into winter and gradual ascent into an agonized spring, was made. When I began to write Carta Marina, I had no idea of the events that would soon shake my life, when what Shakespeare calls the “dim backward and dark abysm of time,” came alive once more. During the past few years, I have heard of many people who have reconnected with long-lost friends or lovers through the phenomenon of email. In part, Carta Marina is about such a reconnection and the ways in which it can or cannot coexist with a happy marriage, a reconnection made especially powerful by the fact that it reawakens grief for a long-ago stillborn child. It is about the ways in which the heart can open, and open, and open and can, with great difficulty, negotiate various forms of love, creating a path that honors both what is lost and what remains.

The first largely accurate map of the Northern Countries, completed by the Swedish historian Olaus Magnus in 1539, the map called “Carta Marina” explodes with phantasmagoria. Trolls, sea serpents, reindeer, lions, warriors, monsters all coexist in the map; and in the poem they become metaphors for the wildness, the realm of dream and terror, that constantly haunts our constructions of order. Carta Marina the book is as intense, beautiful, and strange as the map that inspired it.

Carta Marina is rare among books of poetry: at once a lyric triptych of searing beauty and an absorbing novella that turns upon a disclosed secret from a woman’s life. The poet becomes a cartographer of the heart as she moves through a year’s sojourn in Sweden, lighting candles in her own darkness. Inspired by the country’s earliest map, she charts the territories of aging, the surprise of rekindled love and a belated mourning of unimaginable loss. There are, along the way, startlingly vivid meditations on the ancient and contemporary worlds of the far north, a tender portrait of marriage, anti-war protests and even a trip to Paris. Fisher-Wirth shifts wildly but deftly between registers and languages, moving through eons of time while holding still in the present, allowing the reindeer herds to come silently toward us on the page. I thank her for this book.   — Carolyn Forché
Passionately and precisely, sensuously and learnedly, Ann Fisher-Wirth’s Carta Marina maps the terrain of our earthly fidelities and losses, calling them forth in all their varying shapes and flavors, by name. These poems summon abundance, recording in their pages a fully inhabited, fully inhabitable world.   — Jane Hirshfield
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