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Ellen Bryant Voigt

Ellen Bryant Voigt

Ellen Bryant Voigt has published seven volumes of poetry: Claiming Kin (1976), The Forces of Plenty (1983), The Lotus Flowers (1987), Two Trees (1992); Kyrie (1995), a finalist for the National Book Critics' Circle Award; Shadow of Heaven (2002), a finalist for the National Book Award; and Messenger: New and Selected Poems (2007), a finalist for the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, and winner of the 2008 PoetsÕ Prize. She also co-edited an anthology of essays, Poets Teaching Poets: Self and the World, and collected her own considerations of poetic craft in The Flexible Lyric (1999) and in The Art of Syntax: Rhythm of Thought, Rhythm of Song (2009). Voigt designed and directed the nation's first low-residency MFA Writing Program, and she now teaches in its reincarnation at Warren Wilson College. A former Vermont State Poet, she has been inducted into the Fellowship of Southern Writers and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and served as a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. She lives in Vermont.


he smoked like a chimney we used to say unfiltered
Chesterfields the fragile horizontal column of ash
lengthening as he winced at the sour notes but plunged ahead
even when it splashed down onto the keyboard his long hands
showing the smaller hands how it was done the Chopin the Bach
or some reduction of the Nutcracker Suite whatever might be needed
in order to teach the young you also need
Herculean belief in the possible and his had sugared off
into a pure elixir he must have sipped from
nights in his rented room in the widow's house I suppose
she cooked for him and always someone's mother had sent pie
everyone knew it wasn't us he loved
his charge was most of the county the Chevrolet
was his closet spare instruments and scores and a book comprising
every known song when there were two pianos the two of us
took turns the solo the orchestra imagine
the odds that he'd turn up in my life in time
to loosen the bony grip of Mrs. Law who kept
the ledger of your mistakes whose breath could peel back bark
exactly as my older sister said when she leapt from the bench
and fled the lessons leaving me behind it didn't matter
whether I was worthy or unworthy he took me
everywhere in the Chevrolet he played
with flat fingers I do too


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