Poet Madeline DeFrees Turns 90 -- Elliott Bay Book Store - 11/18

I have been reading and re-reading the poems of Madeline DeFrees in anticipation of her birthday bash at Elliott Bay Book Company this Wednesday @ 7:00 PM complete with chocolate cake and wine.

Madeline was my poetry professor when I was an undergraduate at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst 26 years ago. I've just done the math tonight to discover that Madeline was born in 1919 and Elizabeth Bishop was born in 1929, making them more or less contemporaries. I think there is an acute sense of loss in their work and a strong masking of that loss with humor.

I thought I would post a Madeline DeFrees poem here so that her words might entice you to come down to Elliott Bay on Wednesday - while Elliot Bay Book Company is still here.

From the Darkroom

The image comes up slowly where light fell,
Pure positive from what was only lack.
The figure in focus stamps the pale
Surrender of the broken seal.
Knowing the light, it gives light back,
Shadow and nuance till the vision's whole,
Shadow and substance from the quick
Delight in its reciprocal.

Deeper than death the image burns
Its counterclaim unneutralized,
Renders detail in bold display
And will not, will not wash away
Or fix itself -- the instant prized --
Against the lesson all love spurns.
Madeline DeFrees

I love how the language doubles back on itself and that the process of developing an image and of capturing the light in, I want to say, in a lover, become one and the same. "And will not, will not wash away." Is my favorite line. I could go on, but would love to hear other impressions of this piece. And yes, it is a sonnet - although the language feels so relaxed, it's a bit deceiving.


  1. I love the contrast of the sounds that fall at the end of the lines in the first stanza (the "l" in fell, lack, pale, seal, ... to reciprocal) with the "s"/"z" (burns, unneutralized... prized, spurns) in the second stanza...

  2. DeeDee, I love the doubling of the language,"Shadow and nuance / Shadow and substance..." She has such a deft hand. And the idea that this process is almost a thing of the past in this time of digital photography makes it resonate even more for me. So glad it speaks to you, too.

  3. Some years ago, maybe 10, I took a class from Madeline at Hugo House. I found her quite warm and inviting. Different time and context?

    Great party last night. The talks were superb, each one special in its own way. Thanks!

  4. Hi Esther,
    So glad you were there and glad you enjoyed it. I just got her first book of poetry in the mail - an amazing photograph with habit and all - 1964. Today I ordered her memoir of being a nun. What an incredibly diverse life!


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