Poems by Ellen Bryant Voigt

The Last Class

Winter Field




With singular force and precision, Ellen Bryant Voigt explores relationships between human character and human destiny in meticulously crafted, quietly potent poems that move through autobiography, pastoral, and history. She is known for an exacting and luminous intelligence, and for poems infused with evocative natural imagery and syntactical genius. Consummate in both the narrative and the lyric modes, Voigt reveals the complexity of our interior lives as she confronts beauty, terror and mortality. Her Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters citation reads: “With stoic commitment to meaning, and with immense technical resources, Ellen Bryant Voigt has fashioned an art of passionate gravity and opulent music, an art at once ravishing and stern and deeply human.”

Born and raised on a farm in Virginia, Voigt revealed an aptitude for music at an early age when she began playing the piano. She attended Converse College for its music conservatory but turned to poetry after discovering the work of e.e. cummings and Rilke, and went on to earn an MFA from the University of Iowa. She has said that music influences her writing “entirely,” and that poetry “does its work through music, which then allows for exploration of complicated and therefore accurate feelings.”

Voigt is the author of eight highly acclaimed collections of poetry. Edward Hirsch wrote of her early book, Claiming Kin (1976), that it demonstrated “a Southerner’s devotion to family and a naturalist’s devotion to the physical world.” Subsequent books include The Lotus Flowers (1987); Two Trees (1992); Kyrie a cycle of sonnets about the great Flu Pandemic of 1918, and finalist for the National Book Critic's Circle Award (1995); and Shadow of Heaven. This reading coincides with and celebrates the release of Headwaters, a brand new collection that features what Philip Levine has called “her unerring craft,” in both familiar and very new ways. Voigt dispenses with punctuation, making brilliant use of run-together natural phrasing and enjambment to establish pace, tone, and urgency, still keeping to her stated goal of creating poems that are resonant, complex, and clear.

In addition, she has published two books on craft, The Flexible Lyric and The Art of Syntax, and edited Hammer and Blaze: A Gathering of Contemporary American Poets (with Heather McHugh, 2002) and Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World (with Gregory Orr, 1996). Voigt’s many honors include the Fellowship from the Academy of American Poets, the Folger Shakespeare Library’s O. B. Hardison, Jr. Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. In 1976, she developed and founded the nation's first low-residency writing program at Goddard College in Plainfield, Vermont—a design for graduate MFA study that has since been emulated across the nation. Since 1981 she has taught in the MFA program for writers at Warren Wilson College. Voigt served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and State Poet of Vermont, where she has lived for many years.




    Poetry Center Reading:
     Fall 2013