The Bones of Winter Birds
Terrapin Books, 2019
Ann Fisher-Wirth has taught at the University of Mississippi for several decades, and many of her poems are infused with southern images, as well as being shaped by heat. She has received numerous awards for her work, and is widely published. Her writing is quiet, thoughtful, attentive to detail. The book is divided into five numbered sections. Fisher-Wirth varies her line and stanza lengths, and includes several prose poems consisting of 2-3 stanza/paragraphs. The title is from a line in one of these prose poems, where we are ushered into a kitchen “where salt and pepper arrived in/corncob shakers.”
After two paragraphs describing the kitchen, the family who lived in the house, and the changes which occurred over the years, we are given a startling image of “soup boiled/ up with the bones of winter birds.” Bird bones are tiny, exceptionally fragile, and I imagine winter birds to be even more so. Change is inevitable, society evolves, and people leave or die.
Birds appear frequently in this collection. Fisher-Wirth offers us a sky where “small birds warble,” a summer where “the birds are going crazy with melody,” a “look at the stubble fields, where the starved owl hovers,” and she implores us to “hear/ the jays toward twilight squabbling in the pines.” Then, the end line of “Sunlight, Sunlight,” a line I marked and return to repeatedly:
And sunlight stroking the birds’
throats so it comes out in song.
It is spring as I read this collection; outside my opened kitchen window is a bird-feeder, and as I hear the songbirds trill, I visualize a ray of sunshine caressing their throats. Thank you, Ann Fisher-Wirth, for that lasting image.
“Rain,/ small sweet rain,” is prominent in these poems, leading to thoughts of metaphorically washing life itself clean, renewal, starting over.
My favorite poems are in section 3, (For Joan), a series of seven poems about an older sister who “never wanted to be known.” These poems are almost wistful, a reckoning with the woman who held off her sisters by saying, when a visit was planned, “You better not come./ It might snow.”
The fourth section consists of ten fascinating persona/ekphrastic poems. I say fascinating because the range of subject and style is vast, starting with Emma Bovary, lingering with Georgia O’Keeffe, Ovid, and Giacometti.
I enjoyed these poems so much that around the third poem I put the book down, went online, and ordered earlier work by Fisher-Wirth. The cover art, an oil by Monet, is perfect. Not only does it feature a bird in a snowy scene, but the book contains several references and art-driven ekphrastic poems. The choice of an oil painting is also spot-on; the brush strokes are visible, textured, the same as the subject of the poems.
Delaware native Nina Bennett is the author of The House of Yearning, Mix Tape, and Sound Effects (Broadkill Press Key Poetry Series). Her poetry has been nominated for the Best of the Net, and has appeared in publications that include South85, I-70 Review, Gargoyle, Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, Philadelphia Stories, and The Broadkill Review. Awards include 2014 Northern Liberties Review Poetry Prize, and second-place in poetry book category from the Delaware Press Association (2014). Nina is a founding member of the TransCanal Writers (Five Bridges, A Literary Anthology).
reviewed by Nina Bennett