Ann Fisher-Wirth, a poet and Oxford resident, recently recited from her latest collection of poetry The Bones of Winter Birds at Off-Square Books in Oxford. Looking over the quiet crowd, she recounted the personal stories behind some of her poems — some emotional, some whimsical, all real.
With “no single focus,” this collection lacks a central theme, but instead was comprised of some long, forgotten poetry and many new gems. Fisher-Wirth’s poems conveyed themes of love, grief, nostalgia, and fear as she projected an air of reserved emotion in the quaint bookstore. Critics claim her poems are “lovely and moving” and “exhibit an abundance of compassion and civility,” according to squarebooks.com.
Fisher-Wirth decided to publish this particular book while attending a month-long artist residency in France two years ago.
“I had to comb through my laptop and see what poems I had written that hadn’t yet appeared in a book,” Fisher-Wirth said. “As I continued to write new poems, they went into the pile. One evening last fall, I decided that I would finalize a manuscript. Within a month, the publisher had accepted the book.”
The Bones of Winter Birds is Fisher-Wirth’s sixth poetry book.
“Writing poetry is intensely private, but putting it out into the world is pretty wonderful,” said Fisher-Wirth, who began writing on and off as a little girl. Her poetry is inspired by “life in general,” she said. Anything from politics, to the natural world, to her family life inspires her art.
At the reading, she recited a poem she wrote about death and coping with the loss of a loved one, inspired by her own sister’s passing.
Lily Copley, one of Fisher-Wirth’s students who attended the reading said, “[The poem] presents an entirely different perspective on a ‘life well-lived’ . . . ,” analyzing Fisher-Wirth’s personal take on the situation.
“I was curious as to her specific style of poetry, and that can be conveyed into understanding more of her life,” said Copley, who is originally from Manhattan. She said she attended book readings like this back home, but this was her first in Oxford.
Fisher-Wirth drew many community members to hear her read poetry. During a Q&A afterwards, attendees asked questions about her inspiration and favorite poets. She cited T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams.
Fisher-Wirth’s daughter is a fellow poet. While she is very proud of her daughter and her work, she said their different styles make criticism difficult.
As a mentor, Fisher-Wirth often has students ask for advice. To this she says, “Read, read, read…write, write, write.” She advises reading great literature and writing about what you love.
Recalling her early days as a professional writer, she said she was mistaken when she assumed her name recognition would carry her through.
“I had a little piece of paper taped to my laptop that sad, ‘You must consent to be a beginner.'”
She also advises mentees to become a part of the local literary community. “Take the opportunity to hear other people read; this is an incredible literary community, and there are readings at Square Books almost constantly,” Fisher-Wirth said, praising her fellow community members.
This gives them a network of peers and critics to improve their writing and create new opportunities. She emphasizes that appreciating what you write is most important when writing your own material.
Fisher-Wirth was born in Washington, D.C., but moved around and lived in Germany, Pennsylvania, and Japan during her early childhood due to her father’s enlistment in the military. Her family finally settled in Berkeley, California at age 10 where she lived through high school until she moved to Southern California to attend Pomona College.
Since then, she has lived in Belgium, Virginia, and Oxford, Mississippi, where she moved in August of 1988 and now resides and works as a professor of English and director of the environmental studies minor at the University of Mississippi.
“I was an Army brat…I’m from all over,” Fisher-Wirth joked. She also teaches in the MFA poetry program and courses in environmental literature, creative nonfiction, and American literature.
Fisher-Wirth has received many awards and honors for her work including two Mississippi Arts Commission fellowships and the Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Poetry Award.
She has attended residencies at Djerassi, Hedgebrook, Mesa Refuge, and CAMAC in France.
“It’s a joy and an honor to have other people read or hear my work,” Fisher-Wirth said. She hinted at a 7th book with a “very specific focus,” so there is no shortage of her acclaimed poetry coming anytime soon.