“Genius. Voigt is a poet of knowledge, and knowledge in the living, messy world.”—Robert Pinsky, Washington Post Book World
To witness the maturation of a poet over time is one of the great pleasures of reading. Here Ellen Bryant Voigt gives us that narrative distilled and amplified, arranging selections from six previous volumes to culminate in transcendent recent poems.
Consistently respected by her contemporaries, Voigt's quiet but often violently powerful poems of autobiography, pastoral and history have not always gained the broad attention they deserve. This seventh book (her first retrospective) may ensure that she gets it. Voigt's descriptive powers pop out first: a snake, for instance, is a "wrinkle coming toward me in the grass." Her anecdotes, scenic lyrics, parables and loosely structured sequences ask, however, to be judged for the ways in which they depict people the poet, her husband, her sisters, their ailing and dying parents, or, in Kyrie (1995), the victims of the devastating flu epidemic of 1918. Voigt seems to know a lot about birds and bird-watching, and even more about the classical piano repertoire; these specialties further enliven the sensitive poems of domestic and wild spaces she has composed throughout her career, from a catalogue of birds early on to a recent "redbird fixed on the branch like a ripe fruit." Voigt's latest and most original poetry delves furthest into the human interior, finding like a friendlier, warmer version of Voigt's longtime friend Louise Gl ck the hidden motives behind all human endeavor: "the past," she writes, "is not a scar but a wound;/ I've seen it breaking open."