Ellen Bryant Voigt

Ellen Bryant Voigt has lived in Vermont for many years; she spent her childhood in rural Virginia, where she grew up on her family’s farm. Her poems traverse the worlds of motherhood, the rural South, family, and music. Her 1995 collection Kyrie: Poems is a book-length sonnet sequence exploring the lives of people affected by the influenza epidemic of 1918–1919. Poet Edward Hirsch wrote of her early book, Claiming Kin (1976), that Voigt’s work demonstrates “a Southerner’s devotion to family and a naturalist’s devotion to the physical world.”

Ellen Bryant Voigt studied piano when she was a child, not turning to poetry until a friend in college introduced her to poems by e.e. cummings and Rilke. Voigt stated in a Vermont Public Radio interview that music influences her writing “entirely.” She went on to explain, “I primarily write by my ear. I write by sound first, and then I have to go back and . . . press on every word and figure out the structure of what is being said rather than how it’s being said, but there’s no question to me that sound is the generative force. . . . [Poetry] does its work through music which then allows for exploration of . . . complicated and therefore accurate feelings.”

Voigt was a founder of the Goddard College low-residency MFA program, the first MFA program of its kind, and continues to teach creative writing. Voigt has also written a collection of essays, The Flexible Lyric (1999), and with Gregory Orr co-edited Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World (1996), a selection of essays on writing.