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Messenger: New and Selected Poems 1976-2006 Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 29, 2007
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Starred Review. 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 Glück—the hidden motives behind all human endeavor: "the past," she writes, "is not a scar but a wound;/ I've seen it breaking open." (Jan.)
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Most poets evolve over the years--tightly compressed lyrics giving way to a looser, more expansive line is a common trajectory--but Voigt was herself from the beginning. In this beautifully muted and remarkably consistent sampling from Voigt's previous six collections and a set of new poems, the hallmarks of her early work carry through to the end: a taut, often pentameter line, a neo-Romantic absorption in rural landscapes, a fondness for the dramatic monologue, and crystalline endings that avoid the trap of summing things up too neatly. She's best in elegiac mode, collating the past and making it bearable. Her monologues--including several from Kyrie (1995), which recalls the American influenza epidemic of 1918--are admirable but sometimes lack voices distinct from the poet's own. If Voigt generally stays well away from the emotional precipices where some of her peers (Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck) regularly camp out, she compensates with a psychic and technical maturity that renders pyrotechnics of any sort unnecessary. Kevin Nance
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