Once I asked myself, when was I happy?
I was looking at a February sky.
When did the light hold me and I didn't struggle?
As sad news about the death of Deborah Digges by suicide over the weekend filtered though emails and blog posts yesterday morning, I heard words of praise for the woman many had admired, and I felt the emotion of sorrow expressed by those who knew Digges well for years, even decades, far beyond my one brief meeting with her. Some comments complimented her as a teacher and mentor, while others spoke of her as a good friend or caring mother. However, all of us who have read her wonderful poems in various collections or who have assigned to our students her anthologized poetry, works in which the poet’s intelligence and insight were always evident, realized how significant the loss to contemporary literature with the silencing of her lyrical voice.
Therefore, I believe listening once again to the poet read her own lines may be the best way to remember Deborah Digges. Consequently, I recommend readers celebrate her life and work by watching the above video of Digges offering a few of her poems at an event in Pasadena only one month before her death. I invite viewers to take this opportunity to observe her contribution to poetry once more and to share in the appreciation for her as demonstrated by the audience’s heartfelt applause at the close of her presentation. The reading was part of an event co-sponsored by Claremont Graduate University and Red Hen Press.
Deborah Digges was the author of four collections of poetry. Her first book, Vesper Sparrows (1986), won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Prize. Late in the Millennium was released in 1989. Rough Music (1995) won the Kingsley Tufts Prize. Trapeze (2005) represented her most recent release. She was in the process of completing a fifth volume of poetry that had been scheduled for publication in the fall. Digges also wrote two compelling memoirs, Fugitive Spring (1991) and The Stardust Lounge (2001). In 1995 Digges translated Ballad of the Blood, poems by Cuban dissident poet Maria Elena Cruz Varela. Additionally, she had been the recipient of a number of impressive honors, including grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation.