Monday, July 24, 2017

Madeline DeFrees*

Madeline DeFrees (1919—2015) is the author of eight full-length poetry collections. In 1937 she entered the order of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, and took on the name of Sister Mary Gilbert. It was under this name that she published her early poetry, including her first collection, From the Darkroom (1964). Her greatest influences have perhaps been Hopkins, and Dickinson.

She is one of the poets featured in my anthology The Turning Aside: The Kingdom Poets Book of Contemporary Christian Poetry(available here) and through Amazon.

When asked — in a 2009 Image interview with Jennifer Maier — about the pressure within the convent to avoid individuality, as she was developing as a poet, she said:
----"There was a lot of internal pressure away from poetry. I knew
----Hopkins had given it up because he thought it would interfere
----with prayer...I used to think that because poetry required a
----kind of total attention, and so did prayer, that they went
----together. I had superiors, at least one, who told me that I
----wasn’t anything special just because I was a poet. I knew I
----wasn’t supposed to be writing poems when I was supposed to be
----praying. But they really are very close."

DeFrees was released from her vows in 1973. She explained why her poems would rarely be seen as being particularly Christian:
----"I used to think that the reason I didn’t write religious poems
----was that I really respected religion, and there was nothing worse
----than a poem that wanted to be religious and fell short of the
----mark. The main shortcoming would be sentimentality."

The following poem is from her collection Blue Dusk: New & Selected Poems (2001, Copper Canyon).

Balancing Acts

At 47, Hope's driven to find her feet in construction.
She crawls the hip roof of her house like a cat burglar,
gives herself plenty of rope, lashed to
the chimney. In her left hand, she carries a loaded
staple gun. Her right grips the insubstantial.

Cordless phone in my lap, I watch at 74, from my rented
wheelchair, fingers tattooing 9-1-1.
Let me hop with the help of the Sunrise Medical Guardian
to the open door to rehearse
our common fate. We are Siamese joined by a bungee

cord at the inner ear, that delicate point of balance.
Every day we devise new methods
of locomotion. When my walker, upset by a comforter,
collapses to the floor and takes me
with it, I want to reverse the digits:

four and seven, seven and four. Yesterday, Hope wrestled
the circular saw over the edge
where she clung to the ridge and tripped on the safety
cord. It was then I heard the Sirens
wooing Ulysses tied to the mast. Twilight hangs fire

in the west, then snuffs it out. Behind the slant roof
of a dormer, Hope disappears. Two ladders
reach into the void. Is that white flash a sneakered
foot in search of a rung? I conjure a cloudy head
between the smokestack and the evergreen.

No matter how I strain, I cannot bring her back.
Reluctantly I fiddle with the blind,
hear a tune old as the burning of Rome as I weave
between the cave and the whirlpool for a saving
equilibrium. What if I call her Faith,
the evidence of things unseen?

*This is the second Kingdom Poets post about Madeline DeFrees: first post

Entry written by D.S. Martin. His latest poetry collection, Conspiracy of Light: Poems Inspired by the Legacy of C.S. Lewis, is available from Wipf & Stock as is his earlier award-winning collection, Poiema.