Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006

ISBN: 0393062503
ISBN 13: 9780393062502
By: Ellen Bryant Voigt

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About this book

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.

Reader's Thoughts

Erik Simon

I love this woman's poetry.


Incisive writing -- the kind of poems which draw depth from the ordinary, from music, image, nature, story.What are our gestures? How do we see? What is it we expect from our words?I have the sense of a well-read philosopher crafting intricate jewelry strung on a necklace. In her 1987 The Lotus Flower, the epigram is:Man is in love, and loves what vanishes—W.B. YeatsWhat is it that we love, that makes us weep when it is in front of us (as in the man in Variation: Two Trees),and weep when it is gone?


I wish she had a sense of humour-very well crafted, most in a very serious mode

Fungus Gnat

I am not much of a poetry reader, and particularly contemporary poetry. I’ve read Ashbery and a little Hass—that’s about it, as far as books are concerned. So I don’t have much to go on for comparison, but I kinda liked a lot of Voigt’s poetry. Although it’s almost entirely without regular rhythm (I don’t see many pentameters), it’s still recognizable to this nonspecialist as poetry. Most of Voigt’s poems are lyrical, reflective pieces a page or a few pages long, or divided into sections of that length. They seem mostly to emanate from a country life, a farm life, with some focus on illness. In “Snakeskin,” she uses molting as a metaphor for sleep and renewal. In “Blue Ridge,” she watches fireworks with a male companion with whom she feels no connection. “Soft Cloud Passing” is one of several that address the fear of losing a sick child. In “Winter Field” she has fallen into icy water. In “Prayer,” she gives birth. These are some of my favorites. There are numerous others I liked. Many of them seem to grow from and elaborate upon the mundane. I can’t really say more about them, because my poor attempts at paraphrase would compromise their attraction, which is largely in their reticence or ambiguity of allusion. Not surprisingly—poetry being almost inherently hit or miss—I found at least as many of Voigt’s poems kinda flat or obscure. Even her good poems usually require a bit of thought and rereading, which is fine, but some others did not seem to me to repay the effort. The poems from the second collection, The Forces of Plenty, generally struck me that way. And Kyrie, the book-length cycle of poems that reflects on World War I and the flu epidemic of 1918, includes sections I like quite a bit, but those written in the form of letters home do nothing for me. Overall, though, for her terse imagery, for her investment of self, and for her quiet rhetoric, which can often be lively enough to leave a little mordant surprise at the end a poem, I’ll return to some of these, and am likely to memorize one or two.

Laura Cowan

I love the free verse here that retains a sort of meter of natural speech, though I think I might have liked a little more variety to the rhythms. Throughout the themes are life, family, nature, and the details of the day, but reflective always, and peaceful even in grief.

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