Ellen Bryant Voigt
Ellen Bryant Voigt grew up on her family's farm in rural Virginia. She earned her BA from Converse College and MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop. Her most recent collections include Headwaters (2013), Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006, and Shadow of Heaven (2002).
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. She 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.”
Bryant Voigt's poems often traverse the worlds of motherhood, the rural South, family, and music. Poet Edward Hirsch wrote of her early book, Claiming Kin (1976), that Bryant Voigt’s work demonstrates “a Southerner’s devotion to family and a naturalist’s devotion to the physical world.” Her collection Kyrie (1995), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle award, is a book-length sonnet sequence exploring the lives of people affected by the influenza epidemic of 1918–1919. She 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.
Bryant Voigt was a founder of the Goddard College low-residency MFA program, the first MFA program of its kind, and has also taught at Iowa Wesleyan College and MIT. She served as poet laureate of Vermont for four years. She has received grants from the NEA and the Guggenheim Foundation, and in 2015 she was awarded a MacArthur fellowship. She has lived in Vermont for many years.