Remembering James Longenbach: Ellen Bryant Voigt

In honor of poet James Longenbach, who died on July 29, the Friends of Writers Forum will post remembrances by his close colleagues in the MFA Program for Writers at Warren Wilson College. 

Jim Longenbach was universally recognized as “brilliant.” This was certainly true of his mind, but also true, I’d say, of his “habit of being”: he dazzled us all, of course—that first meaning of “light,” but I also found in him a persistent playfulness.

Such twinning was catnip to him, so much so he seemed to me more Gemini than Virgo, more Mercurial than Apollonian.

I first swam into his ken at Bread Loaf, when Alice was a toddler in a bright green dress, chasing Kathryn across the lawn with Jim in pursuit—he was there as Daddy & Nanny while Joanna was teaching fiction. But Michael Collier was not about to let a resource go untapped and asked Jim to give a lecture. Listening, what struck me, in addition to how much he knew, and his beautiful sentences, was both how lucid he was, and how unconventional. In the Little Theater that morning he patiently demolished the old trope of a muscular “masculine” style by proving its best contemporary practitioner to be Adrienne Rich. Afterward, I went straightway to the bookstore & bought his books.

We would—over the years—become close friends, and I was lucky enough to have his help on both my books of prose & my last two books of poems. And now, we have his indelible volumes of poetry and about poetry, to help us grieve.

–Ellen Bryant Voigt