Last month, the Seattle poetry world lost one of its giants when Madeline DeFrees passed away. DeFrees was one of the most vibrant, evocative poets the Pacific Northwest has ever produced, and the Seattle Review of Books wanted to find some way to honor her life, and to bring her work to new audiences. Here’s one way to do that: every Tuesday for the month of December, we’ll present a DeFrees poem. We’re going to move chronologically through her body of work with every passing week of the month.
The first poem we chose to highlight, “Matinal,” is from DeFrees's 1964 collection From the Darkroom, and it’s a great early exploration of the themes you’ll find in all her work: that friction between the duty of religion and the siren call of poetry, the single lines that themselves could be their own poems (“usual as air” is just about as near to a perfect line of poetry as I can recall reading,) the clarity of the imagery (the sound of the clock, the early morning “tryst,” the “soggy May” before the sun rises.)
I want to personally thank Copper Canyon Press co-publisher Joseph Bednarik for generously giving us permission to run these poems of DeFrees’s this month. Copper Canyon is that rarest of publishers: they understand the sacredness of their charge, the fact that they are not the owners of the words they publish so much as their temporary stewards. Quite simply, DeFrees could not have chosen better guardians for her legacy; Copper Canyon will keep her poems alive for generations to come.
Come January and the new year, we will continue our charge to run new poems by Seattle-area poets. We’ve been publishing an excellent chain of poets since July, and this temporary detour into DeFrees’s work is not so much a distraction from that mission as a chance to renew our focus and remind us why it’s necessary to publish the works of Seattle poets. The Seattle tradition of poetry may not be as long as, say, the New England tradition, but it is a proud story, built on the works of immortal geniuses like DeFrees. There are hundreds of poets out there right now, continuing her work. And we’ll continue to bring their work to you in the months and years to come.