Ellen Bryant Voigt is known for finely wrought, compressed forms delivered with a passionate moral sensibility. Profoundly influenced by her extensive early musical training and formalism, her poems push the limits of lyric and narrative as she sets emotionally heightened moments out of time—singing—against the storied linear past and tries to unite them.
“Song and Story”
“Song and Story,” the concluding poem of Two Trees, Voigt’s fourth volume of poems, distills the chief concern of her artistic life. She gathers and articulates the two impulses that have driven her, that she sees driving human life. Music reaches from the nontemporal realm into story with its softening, easing rhythms; the singer has emerged from pain and reaches back to another who is immersed in pain. The impulse of lyric is thus hope, promise, choice to continue, and praise of the nontemporal or cyclical against story’s inevitable onward movement toward death of the individual. As Stephen Cramer has written, “Voigt’s work as a whole recites the tale of one artist’s ’will to change.’” Her own story encapsulates the story of human choice.
Voigt’s vision matured over two decades from discovery of the body’s music, its breathings and varied motions in the midst of life. The rhythms of family are set harmonically and then oppositionally, as in the title poem, “Claiming Kin.” Writing...
(The entire section is 1476 words.)
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