Ann Fisher-Wirth


My gender informs my work in ways I'm aware of and in ways I'm not aware of. For many years I taught women's studies, wrote critical essays on women writers (especially Willa Cather), and read a great deal of feminist (including French feminist) theory and criticism, and all of this has helped to shape my approach to writing and my voice. Some of my poems address themes of motherhood, daughterhood, female identity, female sexuality, marriage, and the female body; these poems were obviously written by a woman. Others, I daresay, are no less clearly woman-authored, though they are not "about" gendered themes. These would include the many poems I have written that could be described as ecopoetry; ekphrastic poetry; poems about travel, place, death.... It is hard for me to stand far enough away from my writing to describe it, but I'd say my poetry is intensely lyrical, image-laden, and emotionally engaged. Since this also would describe, say, the work of Galway Kinnell or Jack Gilbert, I could hardly claim it as a purely female voice!



Letter to Emma Bovary


Emma, my students don’t like you. 

The women think they see through you, the men

just want to fuck you. No one mutters,
Emma, c’est moi.” You’re bad with money, 

sick with romance,
you shove your little Berthe so she falls and cuts her head 

just because she toddles up to hug you.  

Even your suicide—botched—

the arsenic eating your guts. Vomiting, screaming

with pain. You thought it could be beautiful.


As a girl I sat by the window, dreaming,

face in my hands, eyes unfocused

on the spiky leaves

in the thicket before me.

My holy vow, like yours, to languish 

in the dream of how I loved
myself—swathed in poufs of silk, 

staring into the flames of two tall candles.

Now I scurry through the days,

dust rag in one hand, checklist in the other—

On this February midnight,
I’m wondering where you’ve gone. When did I get
so good?


Your tongue flicks out to taste the final sweetness
in the liqueur glass.

When you balance on the wet stones, laughing,
the field is yours, all paths

are yours, your parasol teeters gaily
in the sunlight, your skirts caress your legs
as they flow and swirl around you.

You run across the dew-soaked grass
early in the morning.

You turn to him with little cries.
His voice is full of sleep.

But Rodolphe
buries that scrap of paper
in the basket of apricots, and gallops off,
abandoning you.


It all comes back to an empty field, winter twilight,
the greyhound escaped from your carriage

and vanished forever behind the line of trees—

and the terror that rises in your throat then. 

It all comes back to woodlice crawling

out of frozen firewood, the plaster priest

crumbling all winter in your garden.
And soup, slurped soup.

Your desire and desolation. Your furious silence,
as well-meaning Charles smiles and swallows.


Here’s what you do not know:

Your life melts around you
like moonbeams.

Your daughter
will starve in the cotton mill.

After you die, dumb faithful Charles 

will gather a lock of your hair. 

His scissors will snick 

your neck, as bloodless as paper.



My house is full of blood.
And my daughters, now,
who used to be so cleanly
cleft, so simple, carry
the bit flesh in them,
shark-torn fish trailing
blood in the sea. Even
my tortoiseshell, delicate,
female, yowls when the
blood comes to her, and,
tail up in anguish,
drags her pretty belly
on the ground.

My house is full of breasts,
softly deep and nippling
beneath camisoles or
sweaters. I have to inch
around them. I have to
squeeze by, narrow. They
float above my daughters
in the bathtub, I mean, they
are my daughters’ in the
bathtub, pale, warm moons
in a watery sky, they who
suckled me now outdo me.

And though I do not stare,
my house is full of fur.
Already, boys
have touched it.
This, one daughter
tells me, and I think of how,
when she was born,
I stroked her arm so gently,

cherishing the vein-fine
skin, and swore no one would
ever hurt her.



“Letter to Emma Bovary” was published in Prairie Schooner, Vol. 82, No. 2, Spring 2008.

“Daughters” was published in Blue Window (Archer Books, 2003).




Ann Fisher-Wirth's third book of poems, Carta Marina, was published by Wings Press in April 2009. Her chapbook Slide Shows placed second in the 2008 Finishing Line Press Chapbook Competition, and will be released in December 2009. She is coediting (with Laura-Gray Street) an anthology of contemporary American ecopoetry, which Trinity University Press will publish in 2012. She teaches at the University of Mississippi.