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Spectral Wavesby David Bottoms
Synopses & Reviews
“DeFrees is committed to rigorous, even ritualistic, forms and a dense economy and precision of language.”—Poetry
Brimming with characteristic charm and careful regard, Madeline DeFrees ranges in scope and scale from sonnets about Elvis, a poem-cycle about sculptor Henry Moore, and lyrics about cataracts. DeFrees’s poems are filled with daily encounters—birds outside the window, trips to the doctor, the plants in her well-tended garden—yet she brilliantly elevates these subjects beyond the personal.
From “A Crown of Sonnets for ‘The King’”:
Although the mourners know his fate is sealed
they can’t give up on God, Who may come through.
They cast about for something more to do:
into Emergency, the patient’s wheeled.
The human curtain parts. Aides leave the field
to doctors who inject the heart and who
start IV drips, then shock a time or two
the organ grown so large with caring that it failed.
Why are we working on this corpse? The nurse
throws up her hands. The crew, shocked back to normal,
admits discretion is the better part of valor.
They’ll stare suspicion down, advise, rehearse
the clothes that Elvis wears for his last formal.
Up to this moment, blue was his favorite color.
At 17, Madeline DeFrees entered a Catholic convent and remained a nun for 38 years. She has published nine volumes of poetry and has taught at universities and colleges throughout the United States. Her most recent book, Blue Dusk, won the Lenore Marshall/The Nation prize. She lives in Seattle.
"For 38 years, Madeline DeFrees lived as a nun and was known as Sister Mary Margaret. She left the convent in middle age, but her work has never been far removed from questions of spirituality, though those questions often take secular forms. In her 10th book of poems, DeFrees, now a celebrated poet in her 80s, confronts her mortality by recalling a life lived in careful consideration of the splendors and omens of the natural world, the complex and shifting meanings of works of art, and the precariousness of maintaining a relationship with a higher power.In thematically organized sections, these 54 shapely poems encompass a wide array of subjects. Four groups center around the eyes, spiders, earth and birds, while the collection closes with a series of sonnets to Elvis and an extended meditation on the sculptures of Henry Moore. Vamping on her themes, DeFrees builds poems of sometimes witty, sometimes dire pile-ups of examples that coalesce into layered wholes.Haunting the first section is an operation to treat cataracts and the attendant distrust of things as they appear: 'Doors/ swing open on the ever-moving world/ always and never the same.' The second section meditates on the spider's careful craftsmanship, as well as the fleetingness and surprising stability of its creations: 'These threads/ have been found in the stratosphere, seven miles/ above the sea.' DeFrees also finds a contemporary context for dredged-up bits of folklore: 'The old wives guarantee/ powers of invention, my physical/ and fiscal health. Remember this when you/ see cobwebs in my house.' Many poems pay tribute to or converse with the work of poetic heroes and contemporaries, including Roethke, Keats, Dickinson, Stevens and Merwin. DeFrees also displays her mastery of difficult poetic forms in several sestinas and villanelles, poems that require repetition of lines, which often seem forced or tiresome in other hands but feel smooth here.With poems that shift between the sacred and the quotidian — and even the profane ('Sinner and saint trade places every day') — DeFrees weaves a tapestry that illuminates the changing relationships between myths and their contemporary relevance, the histories of words and their everyday uses, and the body's steady decay and the life of the mind. (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Whether writing sly sonnets about Elvis or naming her cataracts, Madeline DeFrees demonstrates rigorous poetic clarity
Poetry. Brimming with characteristic charm and careful regard, Madeline DeFrees ranges in scope and scale from sonnets about Elvis, a poem cycle about sculptor Henry Moore, and lyrics about cataracts. DeFrees' poems are filled with daily encounters--birds outside the window, trips to the doctor, the plants in her well-tended garden--yet she brilliantly elevates these subjects beyond the personal.
About the Author
Madeline DeFrees was born in Oregon in 1919. At age 17 she entered a convent and was a Catholic nun for 38 years. DeFrees is author of ten books of poetry and memoir, and received the Lenore Marshall/The Nation Prize for her selected poems, Blue Dusk.
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