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About this poet

On February 6, 1950, Deborah Digges was born in Jefferson City, Missouri. She received degrees from the University of California and the University of Missouri, as well as an MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop.

She is the author of four books of poetry, including Rough Music (Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), winner of the Kingsley Tufts Prize, and most recently The Wind Blows Through the Doors of My Heart (Alfred A. Knopf, 2010). Her first book, Vesper Sparrows (Carnegie-Melon University Press, 1986), won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Prize from New York University. Digges wrote two memoirs, Fugitive Spring (1991) and The Stardust Lounge (2001).

Her poems often rely on the relationship between humans and nature, the primitive urges of discovery and rediscovery, and the physical consequences of such momentary losses of the self. As Willard Spiegelman wrote for The Yale Review: "Thinking through images, Digges wends her insistent, surprising way down a path alternately straight and curving, placid and perilous."

When asked by the New York Times to name a book of poetry published in the last 25 years that has been personally meaningful, Sharon Olds responded that Digges's Trapeze "is a book that sort of threw me to my knees...a book that shows me how much truth, and feel-of-truth—embodying profound complex mourning—can be sung."

Digges received grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation and taught in the graduate writing divisions of New York University, Boston University, and Columbia University. She lived in Massachusetts, where she was a professor of English at Tufts University. She died on April 10, 2009.


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From the Image Archive

 

The Leaves

Deborah Digges, 1950 - 2009
I can bless a death this human, this leaf 
the size of my hand. From the life-line spreads

a sapped, distended jaundice 
toward the edges, still green.

I've seen the sick starve out beyond 
the grip of their disease.

They sleep for days, their stomachs gone, 
the bones in their hands

seeming to rise to the hour 
that will receive them.

Sometimes on their last evening, they sit up 
and ask for food,

their faces bloodless, almost golden, 
they inquire about the future.

                    *

One August I drove the back roads, 
the dust wheeling behind me.

I wandered through the ruins of sharecrop farms 
and saw the weeds in the sun frames

opening the floorboards. 
Once behind what must have been an outhouse

the way wild yellow roses bunched and climbed 
the sweaty walls, I found a pile of letters,

fire-scarred, urinous. 
All afternoon the sun brought the field to me.

The insects hushed as I approached. 
I read how the world had failed who ever lived behind

the page, behind the misquoted Bible verses, 
that awkward backhand trying to explain deliverance.

                    *

The morning Keats left Guys Hospital's cadaver rooms 
for the last time, he said he was afraid.

This was the future, this corning down a stairway 
under the elms' summer green,

passing the barber shops along the avenue that still 
performed the surgeries, still dumped

blood caught in sand from porcelain washtubs 
into the road-side sewer. From those windows,

from a distance, he could have been anyone 
taking in the trees, mistaking the muse for this new

warmth around his heart—the first symptom 
of his illness—that so swelled the look of things,

it made leaves into poems, though he'd write later 
he had not grieved, not loved enough to claim them.

From Vesper Sparrows by Deborah Digges (Antheneum, 1986). Copyright © 1986 by Deborah Digges. Reprinted with permission of the author. All rights reserved.

From Vesper Sparrows by Deborah Digges (Antheneum, 1986). Copyright © 1986 by Deborah Digges. Reprinted with permission of the author. All rights reserved.

Deborah Digges

Deborah Digges

Deborah Digges's poems often rely on the relationship between humans and nature, the primitive urges of discovery and rediscovery, and the physical consequences of such momentary losses of the self.

by this poet

poem
Ponds are spring-fed, lakes run off rivers. 
Here souls pass, not one deified, 
and sometimes this is terrible to know 
three floors below the street, where light drinks the world, 
siphoned like music through portals. 
How fed, that dark, the octaves framed faceless. 
A memory of water. 
The trees more
poem
1 
My mother always called it a nest, 
the multi-colored mass harvested

from her six daughters' brushes, 
and handed it to one of us

after she had shaped it, as we sat in front 
of the fire drying our hair.

She said some birds steal anything, a strand 
of spider's web, or horse's mane,

the residue of sheep's
poem
My life's calling, setting fires. 
Here in a hearth so huge 
I can stand inside and shove 
the wood around with my 
bare hands while church bells
deal the hours down through 
the chimney. No more 
woodcutter, creel for the fire 
or architect, the five staves 
pitched like rifles over stone. 
But to be mistro-