"She writes in the lovely sentences of one who has touched blood, earth, water," Gale said.
In her well-reviewed memoir "Fugitive Spring" (1989), she wrote about growing up on an apple orchard with nine siblings in Missouri and discovering poetry as a lonely military wife.
A second memoir, "The Stardust Lounge" (2000), was a wrenching account of her son Stephen's difficult teenage years.
Her unorthodox and ultimately successful approach to pulling him away from gangs and drugs included a large menagerie of pets "meant to stir up his empathy," she once said.
Deborah Leah Sugarbaker was born Feb. 6, 1950, and raised in Jefferson, Mo., a middle child of staunch Southern Baptists.
Her father, Everett Sugarbaker, was a doctor who ran a cancer clinic. Her mother, Geneva, was a nurse. Several siblings became physicians, but Digges invariably fainted any time she helped with minor medical procedures.
At 19, she married Charles Digges, an Air Force pilot who was often away on missions during the Vietnam War. They lived in Texas and California.
After having her first son, at 20, she began to write poetry.
After initially studying painting in college, Digges earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1975 from UC Riverside and a master's in English in 1982 from the University of Missouri.
She continued writing through a second pregnancy, her first divorce and a stint as a single mother and graduate student at the University of Iowa, where she attended the Writers' Workshop and received a master of fine arts degree in poetry in 1984. A second marriage, to poet Stanley Plumly, ended in divorce in 1993.
A newspaper review of "Fugitive Spring" moved Franklin M. Loew, then dean of Tufts' veterinary school, to contact her, and they married in 2000. They bonded over her animals' needs, she once joked.
Digges volunteered at animal shelters and traveled frequently to East Africa, where she worked with children at an orphanage near Mt. Kenya.
Her fourth book of poems, "Trapeze" (2004), ached with the pain of loss. She wrote with "pitch-perfect" tone -- "the music of the elegy wild but subdued," reviewer Carol Muske-Dukes wrote in 2004 in The Times. Digges particularly mourned her husband, who died of cancer in 2003:
Don't call them back, don't call
them in for supper.mourned her husband,
See, they leave scuff marks like
jet trails on the sky.
Digges is survived by her sons, Charles, a journalist, and Stephen, a photojournalist; a foster son, Trevor; two grandsons; her mother; five sisters; and two brothers.
Tufts University plans to hold a memorial in the fall.
The Poetry Society of America was also planning a memorial.
The family suggests any donations be made to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, www.aspca.org.