Search more than 3,000 biographies of contemporary and classic poets.

Madeline DeFrees


Madeline DeFrees was born in Ontario, Oregon, on November 18, 1919, and moved to Hillsboro in 1923. After graduating from St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon, she entered the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary, where she was known for many years as Sister Mary Gilbert.

After receiving a BA in English from Marylhurst College and an MA in journalism from the University of Oregon, she taught at Holy Names College in Spokane from 1950 to 1967. She then taught at the University of Montana, in Missoula, from 1967 to 1979. In late 1973 she was dispensed from her religious vows. She taught at the University of Massachusetts from 1979 to 1985, after which she retired to Seattle. In 2010, she moved to Portland, Oregon, to be closer to her family.

DeFrees is the author of eight poetry collections, including Spectral Waves (Copper Canyon Press, 2006), winner of a Washington Book Award, and Blue Dusk: New and Selected Poems 1951–2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001), winner of the 2002 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize and a Washington Book Award. She was also the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts and held residencies as Bucknell University, Eastern Washington University, and Wichita State University. DeFrees died on November 11, 2015, in her home in Portland, Oregon.

Selected Bibliography

Spectral Waves (Copper Canyon Press, 2006)
Blue Dusk: New and Selected Poems, 1951–2001 (Copper Canyon Press, 2001)
Possible Sibyls (Lynx house Press, 1991)
Imaginary Ancestors (Broken Moon Press, 1990)
The Light Station on Tillamook Rock (Arrowood Books, 1990)
Magpie on the Gallows (Copper Canyon Press, 1982)
When Sky Lets Go (George Braziller, 1978)
From the Darkroom (Bobbs-Merrill, 1964)

By This Poet


The Family Group

That Sunday at the zoo I understood the child I
never had would look like this: stiff-fingered
spastic hands, a steady drool, and eyes in cages
with a danger sign. I felt like stone myself
the ancient line curved inward in a sunblind
stare. My eyes were flat. Flat eyes for tanned
young couples with their picture-story kids. Heads

turned our way but you’d learned not to care. You
stood tall as Greek columns, weather-streaked
face bent toward the boy. I wanted to take his hand,
hallucinate a husband. He whimpered at my touch.
You watched me move away and grabbed my other
hand as much in love as pity for our land-locked
town. I heard the visionary rumor of the sea. What

holds the three of us together in my mind is something
no one planned. The chiseled look of mutes.
A window shut to keep out pain. Wooden blank of doors.
That stance the mallet might surprise
if it could strike the words we hoard for fears
galloping at night over moors through convoluted bone.
The strange uncertain rumor of the sea.