Biography (Critical Survey of Poetry: American Poets)
Ellen Bryant was brought up in Chatham, Virginia, by Lloyd Gilmore Bryant, a farmer, and Missouri Yeats Bryant, an elementary school teacher. Experiences of family, along with will and destiny, hard work and choice, natural order and persistence in the face of the unpredictable afforded by farm life, are at the heart of her concerns.
She credits her early and long training in music as her central artistic influence. Not only was it formative in her “impulse for order,” but also it contributed to her love of “solitude.” Surrounded by many relatives, Voigt found her life “exceedingly claustrophobic.” Playing piano was her time to herself:I can look back and see poem after poem that takes up the friction between that solitary individual and whatever that social unit is, be it small or large.
Music resounds in the body, eliciting sensory feeling. At the same time, it provides a sense of control through form, both constraining and fluid. Relating this to her writing, Voigt has said, “I make a musical decision before I make any other kind of decision. . . . If I can’t hear it, it just never gets written.”
Voigt’s music education began with piano lessons at age four and continued through a degree in 1964 at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina, where she discovered her dislike of performance, her love for music theory, and her passion for literature. While she was working a summer job playing lounge music at...
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Biography (Poetry for Students)
Ellen Bryant Voigt's poetry is known for its regionalism, its reflective character, and its everyday subject matter. She draws from her experiences as mother, wife, daughter, teacher, writer, and mentor. Her particular strain of feminism is not harsh or demanding, but instead seeks to demonstrate the inherent value of a woman's experience and the unique perspective it offers. She accomplishes this by being sensitive and honest and by writing in a way that is both accessible and thought provoking. Voigt's poems are often used to illustrate the existence and balance of opposing forces, such as good and evil or separation and connection. Her work has earned her a loyal following of readers and students as well as a number of awards, including fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Guggenheim Foundation, the 1983 Alice Fay di Castagnola Award from the Poetry Society of America, the 1983 Sara Teasdale Award, 1983 and 1991 Pushcart prizes, the 1986 Gretchen Warren Poetry Award, the 1987 Emily Clark Balch Award, the 1999 Hanes Poetry Award, and Lila Wallace–Reader's Digest awards in 1999 through 2002. From 1999 to 2003, Voigt was Vermont's state poet. In 2002, she was inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers.
Voigt was born May 9, 1943, in Danville, Virginia, to Lloyd Gilmore Bryant (a farmer) and Missouri Eleanor Bryant (an elementary school teacher). She describes her early years as having unfolded in a now-extinct culture, in...
(The entire section is 624 words.)