Ellen Bryant Voigt Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Ellen Bryant Voigt (voyt) is also known for her critical essays on poetry, collected in The Flexible Lyric (1999). She explores and defines lyric, narrative, style, structure, form, and other concepts of genre and versification: tone, image, diction, gender, tension, and voice. The central concern is testing differentiation between the modes and impulses of lyric and narrative.

The lengthy title essay develops definitions of lyric and narrative, form and structure, texture and voice that reveal how the elements of each pair are set in tension in the best poetry. Quoting from Randall Jarrell, who regarded tension as “a struggle between opposites,” Voigt considers unity in a poem to emerge from tension, and this emergence is a poem’s necessary function. Lyric is “a moment lifted out of time but not static, movement that is centripetal and centrifugal rather than linear; an examination of self which discovers universal predicament; insight embodied in individuated particulars and at the same time overriding them.” Voigt illustrates her point by briefly tracing the evolution of lyric poetry from the Renaissance through the present to show that form does not limit the poet’s freedom but rather impels the evolution of lyric poetry.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Ellen Bryant Voigt’s awards include the Alice Fay di Castagnola Award (1983), the Emily Clark Balch Award (1987), the Hanes Award for Poetry (1993), the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writers’ Award (1998), an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2000), the O. B. Hardison, Jr., Poetry Prize (2002), and Pushcart Prizes (2003, 2006). She has received grants and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Vermont Council on the Arts, and the Academy of American Poets (2001). Kyrie was a finalist for a National Book Critics Circle Award, and Messenger was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. From 1999 to 2003, Voigt was poet laureate of Vermont. In 2002, she was inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and she served as a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 2003 to 2009. In 2009, she received the Poets’ Prize for Messenger.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Birkerts, Sven. “From the Farm.” Review of Messenger. The New York Times Book Review, February 25, 2007, p. 26. Birkerts notes how Voigt’s poems look at the world from a rural perspective. He calls her a “seasoned poet in full confident stride.”

Chappell, Fred. “Ellen Bryant Voigt and ’The Art of Distance.’” Sewanee Review 113, no. 3 (Summer, 2005): 422-441. Poet Chappell examines a seven-poet sequence called “The Art of Distance” in Shadow of Heaven. He finds her poetry “arresting” and “affecting.”

Hacht, Anne Marie, and David Kelly, eds. Poetry for Students. Vol. 23. Detroit: Thomson/Gale, 2006. Contains an analysis of Voigt’s poem “Practice.”

Holden, Jonathan. “The Free Verse Line.” In The Line in Postmodern Poetry, edited by Robert Joseph Frank and Henry M. Sayre. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988. Holden uses Voigt’s poetry to show how good free-verse poetry is made of rhythmic phrases that match the poet’s attention.

Voigt, Ellen Bryant. “A Conversation with Ellen Bryant Voigt.” Interview by Candice Baxter and Wendy Sumner Winter. Missouri Review 32, no. 1 (Spring, 2009): 70-83. Voigt talks about being a poet and her poetry.

_______. “Ellen Bryant Voight.” Interview by Ernest Suarez. In Southbound: Interviews with Southern Poets, edited by Suarez, T. W. Stanford, and Amy Verner. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1999. Voigt talks about her poetry and life, including how she got started writing poetry.