|Waiting to cut the cake, Madeline DeFrees, at her 90th birthday party, Elliott Bay Book Company|
Madeline DeFrees (1919-2015) was my first true poetry teacher. I was in my final year of university just returning to campus after three years away. Madeline was a visiting poet from Montana. Her one-on-one mentoring not only allowed me to complete my Honors Thesis but she taught me more about writing poetry than any other teacher --- before or since.
It was a loving, funny, and memorable night at Elliot Bay Book Company a little more than four years ago when many of Madeline's former students, colleagues, and friends came together to celebrate with her. She was so pleased! I know I'd never seen her so happy. Many of us will be back again to honor her presence in our lives.
Here is an excerpt from my remarks that I read to Madeline at her party. It was so good to be with her and I'm sure in some way she will be with us on Friday, January 9th, as well.
In preparation for this talk, I went back through my daily journals from winter-spring 1983, curious to find what, if anything, I had written about Madeline. And perhaps not so surprisingly – there she was. – Mixed in with huge boyfriend drama and the great penetrating angst of a young person’s life -- there was Madeline.
I thought I would share a few BRIEF entries with you and with Madeline.
February 13th, 1983 –
My poetry life is rebuilding again. I like Madeline – she’s nothing like that Monster – Mr. M. (Mr. M - the poet from the workshop I’d just finished).
A poem just appeared from an exercise Madeline gave me! "Scotch Nip."
I’m learning lots of technique from Madeline – but she gives little encouragement. Maybe that’s supposed to make me work all the harder?
Madeline is not ego-satisfying, but honest. She says my positive points are my maturity and my determination. Also, that the only thing that makes a good writer is to keep writing.
And that even if poetry is depressing, the poet wrote it in a positive moment.
May 20th (Two days after I'd defended my thesis.)
Madeline came to the party and enjoyed herself. About 12-14 people. At times singing, playing a hand organ, and dueling guitars.
So here are a few things that strike me about Madeline as a teacher.
1. Madeline believed in hard work. No surprise there. She would tell me – in a poem - when you take out the weakest link in the chain - there will be something else to replace it. I was amazed by this and at the same time exhausted. No student wants to hear this. What do you mean? It isn’t done yet?
2. Madeline’s love of poetry showed itself in a true deference for even the most flawed attempts by her students. She extended to me the respect that a fledgling life in poetry deserves - but is rarely granted. We would meet once every two weeks in her office in Bartlett Hall, late in the afternoon when everyone else had gone home. I remember waiting for our meeting as being very much like anticipating a visit to the dentist – and when she finally opened the door and invited me in, she would be ready her most exacting tool - the red pen. Ready to remove the weak links in the chain.
Please join us to celebrate her life at 2 pm. Friday, January 9th:
At 2 pm, in the reading room at Elliott Bay Book Company in Seattle, Friday, January 9th. Many of Madeline’s friends, colleagues and former students will be on hand to tell stories and read her poems, including Rick Simonson, Elizabeth Austen, Chris Howell, Susan Rich, Gary Thompson and Candace Black. There will be time for all those who want to share a memory or read a favorite poem, and a short reception. Please join us if you can, and help spread the word. This event is free and open to the public.Thank you! I look forward to remembering Madeline together.