April 28, 2004Poets HouseFrom the Academy Audio Archive

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

 

Telling the Bees

Deborah Digges, 1950 - 2009
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 and shifting 
of the coals blown flaring, 
my cheeks flushed red, 
my bed laid down before the fire, 
myself anonymous among the strangers
there who'd come and go. 
But destiny said no. It falls 
to you to tell the bees, it said. 
I wanted to be the one to wash his linens, 
boiling the death-soiled sheets, 
using the waters for my tea. 
I might have been the one to seal 
his solitude with mud and thatch and string, 
the webs he parted every morning, 
the hounds' hair combed from brushes, 
the dust swept into piles with sparrows' feathers. 
Who makes the laws that live 
inside the brick and mortar of a name, 
selects the seeds, garden or wild, 
brings forth the foliage grown up around it 
through drought or blight or blossom,
the honey darkening in the bitter years,
the combs like funeral lace or wedding veils 
steeped in oak gall and rainwater, 
sequined of rent wings. 
And so arrayed I set out, this once
obedient, toward the hives' domed skeps 
on evening's hill, five tombs alight. 
I thought I heard the thrash and moaning 
of confinement, beyond the century, 
a calling across dreams, 
as if asked to make haste just out of sleep. 
I knelt and waited. 
The voice that found me gave the news. 
Up flew the bees toward his orchards.

From Trapeze by Deborah Digges. Copyright © 2004 by Deborah Digges. Reprinted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved.

From Trapeze by Deborah Digges. Copyright © 2004 by Deborah Digges. Reprinted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. 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
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-
poem
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
poem
See how the first dark takes the city in its arms 
and carries it into what yesterday we called the future. 

O, the dying are such acrobats. 
Here you must take a boat from one day to the next, 

or clutch the girders of the bridge, hand over hand. 
But they are sailing like a pendulum between eternity and