poem index

sign up to receive a new poem-a-day in your inbox

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.


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

My Life's Calling

Deborah Digges, 1950 - 2009
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-elemental. 
The flute of clay playing
my breath that riles the flames, 
the fire risen to such dreaming 
sung once from landlords' attics.
Sung once the broken lyres, 
seasoned and green. 
Even the few things I might save, 
my mother's letters, 
locks of my children's hair 
here handed over like the keys 
to a foreclosure, my robes 
remanded, and furniture
dragged out into the yard,
my bedsheets hoisted up the pine, 
whereby the house sets sail. 
And I am standing on a cliff 
above the sea, a paper light, 
a lantern. No longer mine 
to count the wrecks. 
Who rode the ships in ringing, 
marrying rock the waters 
storm to break the door, 
looked through the fire, beheld 
a clearing there. This is what 
you are. What you've come to.

Excerpted from Trapeze by Deborah Digges Copyright © 2004 by Deborah Digges. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Excerpted from Trapeze by Deborah Digges Copyright © 2004 by Deborah Digges. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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
It fell to me to tell the bees, 
though I had wanted another duty—
to be the scribbler at his death, 
there chart the third day's quickening. 
But fate said no, it falls to you 
to tell the bees, the middle daughter. 
So it was written at your birth. 
I wanted to keep the fire, working 
the constant arranging
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
The wind blows
through the doors of my heart.
It scatters my sheet music
that climbs like waves from the piano, free of the keys.
Now the notes stripped, black butterflies,
flattened against the screens.
The wind through my heart
blows all my candles out.
In my heart and its rooms is dark and windy.
From the