Voigt, Ellen Bryant 1943–

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Voigt, Ellen Bryant 1943–


Born May 9, 1943, in Danville, VA; daughter of Lloyd Gilmore (a farmer) and Missouri Eleanor (an elementary school teacher) Bryant; married Francis George Wilhelm Voigt (an educator, administrator, and corporate executive), September 5, 1965; children: Julia Dudley, William Bryant. Education: Converse College, B.A., 1964; University of Iowa, M.F.A., 1966.


Home—Marshfield, VT.


University of Iowa, Iowa City, IA, technical writer for College of Pharmacy, 1965-66; Iowa Wesleyan College, Mount Pleasant, IA, instructor in English, 1966-69; Goddard College, Plainfield, VT, teacher of literature and writing, 1970-78, director of writing program, 1975-79; Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, associate professor of creative writing, 1979-82; Warren Wilson College, Swannanoa, NC, visiting faculty member in Master's of Fine Arts program for writers, beginning 1981. Professional pianist. Teacher at writers' conferences, including Bread Loaf, Ropewalk, Aspen, Napa Valley, and Sandhills; gives poetry readings at schools and colleges; judge of poetry contests.


Associated Writing Programs (member of board of directors).


Discovery Award, Ninety-second Street Young Men's Hebrew Association/Nation, 1976; grants from Vermont Council on the Arts, 1974-75, and National Endowment for the Arts, 1976-77; Poetry in Public Places Award, American International Sculptors Symposium, 1977; Guggenheim fellowship, 1978-79; Pushcart Prize, 1983, 1991; Emily Clark Balch Award, Virginia Quarterly Review, 1987; Hanes Poetry Award, 1994; nominee, National Book Critics Circle poetry award, 1995, for Kyrie; nominee, National Book Award for poetry, 2002, for Shadow of Heaven; named Vermont State Poet, 1999-2003; Lila Wallace Fellow, 1999-2001; American Academy of Poets, chancellor, 2002-05.



Claiming Kin, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 1976.

The Forces of Plenty, Norton (New York, NY), 1983.

The Lotus Flowers, Norton (New York, NY), 1987.

Two Trees: Poems, Norton (New York, NY), 1992.

Kyrie, Norton (New York, NY), 1995.

Shadow of Heaven, Norton (New York, NY), 2002.

Messenger: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2006, W.W. Norton & Co. (New York, NY), 2007.

Work represented in numerous anthologies, including Poetry in Public Places, American International Sculptors Symposium, 1977; The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, University Press of New England (Hanover, NH), 1983; The Morrow Anthology of Younger American Poets, Morrow (New York, NY), 1985; The Antaeus Anthology, Bantam (New York, NY), 1987; and Best American Poems 1993.


(With Kathleen Pierce) Mercy, University of Pittsburgh Press (Pittsburgh, PA), 1991.

(Editor, with Gregory Orr) Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World (essays), University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 1996.

The Flexible Lyric (essays), 1999.

(Editor, with Heather McHugh) Hammer and Blaze: A Gathering of Contemporary American Poets, University of Georgia Press (Athens, GA), 2002.

(Compiler and author of introduction) Dana Roeser, Beautiful Motion, Northeastern University Press (Boston, MA), 2004.

Contributor to Nation, New Yorker, Atlantic, and New Republic, and to literary journals, including Shenandoah, Sewanee Review, American Poetry Review, Southern Review, and Poetry. Advisory editor, Arion's Dolphin, 1971-75.


In her first book of poems, Claiming Kin, Ellen Bryant Voigt reveals "a Southerner's devotion to family and a naturalist's devotion to the physical world," Edward Hirsch observed in his Nation review. The title poem of the collection reflects both impulses, for in addressing her early life in her mother's house, Voigt compares herself to a barren plant: "Mother, this poem is from your middle / child who, like your private second self / rising at night to wander the dark / house / grew in the shady places: / a green plant in a brass pot, / rootbound, without blossoms."

What Peter Schjeldahl found interesting about Voigt's poems, he wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "is evidence of a pretty ferocious sensibility: powerful sexual yearnings and repulsions, fascinations with physical rot and murderous impulses." Hirsch alluded to "a sort of Plathean intensity, a bleak energy of mourning" permeating her work. "As a book," Hirsch concluded, "Claiming Kin is restless, sometimes violent, always physical. Its poems stand on both sides of a barren winter. But in the end, through the magical, saving grace of language, Ellen Bryant Voigt's poems resist and transcend their seasons of hard weather. Claiming Kin is a stunning first collection."

The Lotus Flowers, Voigt's third book of poems, shows the poet's maturity as craftsman and storyteller, reviewers noted. "At various times she has written in tight forms and free verse; with adjectives and without personally and objectively," remarked Poetry reviewer Peter Stitt. "In [The Lotus Flowers] she seems to bring all of this together and it makes for both a pleasing variety and an inherent toughness." Michael Collier, writing in the Partisan Review, recommended the book to readers "who believe that a poem should be clear and accessible and concern itself with the rescue and transformation of a life."

In a more recent book, Kyrie, Voigt uses the sonnet form in a poem sequence that provides voices from the 1918-19 influenza epidemic. Shadow of Heaven, her 2002 collection, contains poems often meditating on death and physical injury while still taking time to reflect on the beauties of life at home. Calling the verses "disciplined poems" in a Booklist review, critic Donna Seaman said that these pieces are "deceptive in their hominess and welcoming clarity" as they reflect on profound issues.

Publication of Voigt's retrospective, Messenger: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2006, prompted critics to observe that the book should bring the poet the wider readership that she deserves. The volume, according to New York Times Book Review contributor Sven Birkerts, is a "generous and carefully thought-out gathering" of Voigt's work; it includes representative samplings from each of her previous books, including several sonnets from Kyrie, as well as new work. Poet Edward Byrne, on the Web log One Poet's Notes, observed that Messenger clearly shows the development of Voigt's "immense and continually increasing talent." Byrne commented that, while Messenger is imbued with the somber theme of mutability and mortality, Voigt also "sometimes makes a case for accepting mortality and valuing the temporal world in which we live, though filled with imperfections and disappointments."

As Birkerts commented in his New York Times Book Review assessment of the collection, Voigt "works in the Horatian tradition, taking on the world from a fixed rural place and deriving maximal resonance from the organic mapping of small to large." Birkerts expressed admiration for the poet's "arrestingly acute images" and "highly tempered poetic intelligence," concluding that Messenger shows that Voigt "continues to put the muscle of her craft in the service of her steady sensuous intellect."



American Women Writers: A Critical Reference Guide from Colonial Times to the Present, Volume 4, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2000, p. 181.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Volume 24, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1989, pp. 428-434.

Contemporary Poets, sixth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.

Contemporary Southern Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 120: American Poets since World War II, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1992, pp. 307-311.


American Poetry Review, July-August, 1977, Stanley Plumly, review of Claiming Kin, p. 43; January, 1988.

Best Sellers, August, 1983, Sarah McGowan, review of The Forces of Plenty, p. 187.

Booklist, September 1, 1992, Pat Monaghan, review of Two Trees: Poems, p. 27; February 1, 2002, Donna Seaman, review of Shadow of Heaven, p. 918; January 1, 2007, Kevin Nance, review of Messenger: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2006, p. 43.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, May, 2000, J.D. McGowan, review of The Flexible Lyric, p. 1652.

Hudson Review, spring, 1988, James Finn Cotter, review of The Lotus Flowers, pp. 225-232; summer, 1993, review of Two Trees.

Library Journal, December 1, 2006, Sue Russell, review of Messenger, p. 130.

Literary Review, fall, 1986, Carolyne Wright, "Pain and Plenitude: First and Second Books by Maria Flook and Ellen Bryant Voigt," pp. 118-126.

Nation, August 6, 1977, Edward Hirsch, review of Claiming Kin, p. 123.

New York Times Book Review, May 1, 1977, Peter Schjeldahl, review of Claiming Kin, p. 69; July 17, 1983, Bruce Bennett, review of The Forces of Plenty, p. 22; August 23, 1987, Edward Hirsch, review of The Lotus Flowers, p. 20; May 22, 1988; February 25, 2007, Sven Birkerts, "From the Farm."

Partisan Review, summer, 1988, Michael Collier, review of The Lotus Flowers, p. 491.

Ploughshares, fall, 1992, Joyce Peseroff, review of Two Trees.

Poetry, February 5, 1984, Penelope Mesic, review of The Forces of Plenty, pp. 295-296; June, 1988, Peter Stitt, review of The Lotus Flowers.

Publishers Weekly, August 10, 1992, review of Two Trees, p. 58; November 20, 2006, review of Messenger, p. 38.

Sewanee Review, summer, 2005, "Ellen Bryant Voigt and the Art of Distance."

TriQuarterly, winter, 1988, Reginald Gibbons, review of The Lotus Flowers, pp. 225-227.

Virginia Quarterly Review, spring, 1988, Peter Harris, review of The Lotus Flowers, pp. 262-276.

Yale Review, spring, 1977, Helen Vendler, review of Claiming Kin, pp. 410-412.


One Poet's Notes,http://edwardbyrne.blogspot.com/2007/06/ellen-bryant-voigt-messenger-new-and.html (November 9, 2007), Edward Byrne, review of Messenger.

Poets.org,http://www.poets.org/ (November 9, 2007), Ellen Bryant Voigt profile.