Manley Hopkins and Dylan Thomas, but she brings a distinctly feminine sensibility to this synthesis of song and intense feeling. Peppered with allusions to the natural sciences, philosophy, astronomy, archaeology, and ancient and contemporary history, her poems are challenging but engaging as she shifts mercurially between celebration and despair, rumination and ecstasy, rebellion and remorse. Theodore roethke has influenced her work, and her eye for significant detail recalls Elizabeth bishop, though Digges is more direct in her exuberance and less restrained in her sorrows.
Digges was born and raised in Jefferson, Missouri. Her first book, Vesper Sparrows (1986), received the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Prize in 1987. Her third book, Rough Music (1995), won the Kingsly-Tufts Prize in 1996. Besides her poetry, Digges has translated the work of Cuban poet Maria Elena Cruz Varela and is the author of two memoirs, Fugitive Spring (1992) and The Stardust Lounge (2001). She has also been awarded a number of fellowships.
Early in her career, Digges was praised for her "effortless music" and "passionate intuition," by Jorie GRAHAM, and she retains these qualities throughout her work (31). In Vesper Sparrows and Late in the Millennium, Digges demonstrates her ability to merge formal writing with personal concerns, as in "The Rockettes," a modified villanelle about her mother, and "Hall of Souls," a brilliant sestina about cycles of birth and loss (see prosody and free verse).
Rough Music marks a decisive shift in Digges's work. The volume mourns a broken relationship but, as David Baker writes, "without self-pity or blame, without the rehearsal of confessions or accusations" (201). Digges reveals her considerable erudition with allusions to Ralph Waldo Emerson, Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, medical procedures, and medieval rituals, but she also injects the poems with a rougher cadence and harsher, grittier imagery. "Broom" ritualizes loss by focusing on an ordinary household object and imaginatively transforming it into "an oar that parted waters, raft-keel and mast, or twirled / around and around on the back lawn, / a sort of compass." Writing about graffiti-making street gangs in "Tombs of the Muses," Digges displays her ability to identify with those outside her immediate experience as well as her musical ear and keen eye: "they balance on a car door riding rat-chewed coach seats, / they roller-spread a sky." In Rough Music, the formal elements are more diffuse, but they help to contain the ratcheting up of emotion. As Baker suggests, in these poems, technical strategies provide "a series of frames by which to contain grief and to 'atone' for disaster or destruction with discipline" (201).
In her poetry, Digges draws on public rituals and forms to make sense of private, often painful experience. Her willingness to delve intensely into emotional turmoil is balanced by a skillful and inventive use of form.
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