Mary Szybist's National Book Award Acceptance Speech



Mary Szybist gave a dazzling speech at the National Book Awards ceremony. It was so moving that she was prominently quoted all over the media (NPR, the New York Times, etc.), so you've likely read or heard bits of it. But here, for the first time, is the full text of her speech. 



To echo the words of Maya Angelou earlier, and apply them more appropriately, “whether I deserve it or not.”

Sometimes, when I find myself in a dark place, I lose all taste for poetry. If it cannot do what I want it to do, if it cannot restore those I have lost, then why bother with it at all? There’s plenty that poetry cannot do, but the miracle, of course, is how much it can do, how much it does do. So often I think I know myself, only to discover in a poem a difference, an otherness that resonates, where I find myself, as Wallace Stevens once put it, "more truly and more strange." It is what some describe as soul-making. I count myself among them.

I think often of the words of Paul Connolly who said, “I believe it is not arguing well, but speaking differently that changes a culture.” Poetry is the place where speaking differently is the most prevalent. Speaking differently is what I aspire to, and what I so adamantly admire in the poetry of Adrian Matejka, Matt Rasmussen, Frank Bidart, Lucie Brock-Broido. I am amazed to be in your company.

Thank you Alice James Books for publishing my first book. Thank you Graywolf Press for publishing this one, and for taking such exquisite care with it. I am so grateful to so many. But I want to especially thank Gabriela Rife, who inspired so many of these poems, Michele Glazer and my brother, Mark Szybist, for helping me through them. Thank you to my husband, Jerry Harp, the heart to whom I speak, for everything. And final thanks to my family, my family, and especially to my mother, who made me.

Note: This great illustration comes courtesy of Kate Gavino's blog, Last Night's Reading