Mary Szybist
Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry

A Publishers Weekly Top Five Poetry Book of 2013

Amazon's Best Book of the Year in Poetry 2013
"Szybist persistently tightens the association between revelation and destruction, presenting the other side of an unspoken loss that seems to lurk in the decade Incarnadine emerges from: a loss of faith, urgency, purpose, love, inspiration. . . . The book's original, rich immediacy stays present, much as an array of mockable visions stays present for Szybist's speaker—stifling and seducing."—Slate

About the Book

Winner of the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry

The troubadours
knew how to burn themselves through,
how to make themselves shrines to their own longing.
The spectacular was never behind them.
     —from “The Troubadours Etc.”

Mary Szybist’s richly imagined encounters—involving endangered butterflies, hungry birds, sexual predators, demented presidents—offer intimate spaces and stagings for experiences that are exploratory and sometimes explosive. Through the lens of an iconic moment, the Annunciation of an unsettling angel to a bodily young woman, Szybist describes the confusion and even terror of moments in which our longing for the spiritual may also be a longing for what is most fundamentally alien to us. In a world where we are so often asked to choose sides, to believe or not believe, to embrace or reject, Incarnadine offers lyrical and brilliantly inventive alternatives.

“Mary Szybist’s lovely musical touch is light and exact enough to catch the weight and grind of love. This is a hard paradox to master as she does.”—Kay Ryan

Additional Reviews

A Publishers Weekly Top Five Poetry Book 2013
“Gorgeous. . . . [The] intersection of human and divine colors every page. . . . Szybist burns throughout these pages, whether she writes about a butterfly, a donkey sanctuary or a young captain during World War II. When Szybist sees angels, they are everywhere—in alchemy, barrenness and earthquakes.”The Washington Post
“In her gorgeous second collection, Mary Szybist blends traditional and experimental aesthetics to recast the myth of the Biblical Mary for this era. In vulnerable lyrics, surprising concrete poems, and other forms, and with extraordinary sympathy and a light touch of humor, Szybist probes the nuances of love, loss, and the struggle for religious faith in a world that seems to argue against it. This is a religious book for nonbelievers, or a book of necessary doubts for the faithful.”—National Book Awards judges’ citation
"Mary Szybist's new collection of poetry, Incarnadine, is deeply felt and well-crafted, layered in content between the literal, the here and now, the might-have-beens, as well as iconography. Stark at moments, shrouded in others, Szybist utilizes form to push at and hold the stories told and the images explored in this rich and moving work."—The Oregonian
"Szybist's various poetic 'annunciations' recall Rilke's line that 'every angel is terrifying;' this is 'a world where a girl has only to say yes and heaven opens' but where the young girl finds that 'the Holy / will overshadow you.' Szybist is the rare poet of flesh and spirit who can repeatedly capture that terrible moment of grace."Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
Amazon's Best Book of the Year in Poetry 2013
"Poetry readers in the know have been waiting a decade for this book. . . . Szybist is a skeptic who thinks a lot about faith, a believer in doubt, though as a series of 'Announcement' poems attest, she finds God all around—in everything from the distracted discourse of former President Bush to the sound of 'a vacuum / start[ing] up next door.' . . . More than anything, though, Szybist is a humble and compassionate observer of the complicated glory of the world and humanity's ambivalent role in it, as inheritors and interlopers."—Craig Morgan Teicher,, "A 2013 Poetry Preview"
“Not since Adrienne Rich’s early work has a collection thought so deeply about the permeable barrier between the spirit and the body, and motherhood. . . . Szybist writes lucid, delicately precise lines that grow more steeply enjambed as she falls into her subject. . . . Extraordinary.”—John Freeman, The Boston Globe
A Kansas City Star Best Book of The Year
"Smart, unflinching, beautiful, the poems in Incarnadine embrace the paradoxes of love: love of being beheld, of being beholden, of being 'done unto,' and of what it means to care for what we make of what we are given, or not given, of what it means to 'see annunciations everywhere,' in disasters, tragedies, moments of grace and miracle."Los Angeles Review of Books
"Szybist artfully reconciles the legend of the Annunciation with our contemporary culture. . . . Incarnadine is sophisticated, wry, faithful, divine, contradictory, tragic and allusive."The Rumpus
“Poetry readers in the know have been waiting a decade for this book. . . . Szybist is a skeptic who thinks a lot about faith, a believer in doubt, though as a series of ‘Announcement’ poems attest, she finds God all around—in everything from the distracted discourse of former President Bush to the sound of ‘a vacuum / start[ing] up next door.’ . . . More than anything, though, Szybist is a humble and compassionate observer of the complicated glory of the world and humanity’s ambivalent role in it, as inheritors and interlopers.”—Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR
“Szybist has built an entire book around the coincidence of her name, using the overlap with the mother of Jesus to articulate her hunger for something more than human and her desire to find it in a comfortably human form. The result, winner of this year’s National Book Award, is incredibly enticing—a book that always seems to be on the brink of revelation but that allows for neither easy answers nor easy evasions.”—Slate, "Best Poetry Books of 2013"
"Incarnadine is a formally playful and carefully crafted book with a sense of wonder. Through a grace and a little humor, Szybist explores spirituality and intimacy in the quiet moments of life."Hazel & Wren
"Szybist's long-awaited second collection. . . . is a mirage of inventive, intense, dichotic poems."Library Journal
"Szybist's collection evokes the old Catholic direction to find God in all things, but you don't have to be Catholic to understand exactly what she's getting at. Rather, she merely exposes the supernatural as it occurs among us every day and invites us to marvel at the spiritual heaviness of the world—which, even in its darkest moments, she skillfully demonstrates as beautiful."New Orleans Review
"Szybist has carefully approached potentially volatile and politically squeamish topics by linking them to the personal, showing how poetry interacts with and reacts to these deep historical and contemporary chasms of the rights and representations of women in religion, literature, and society."New Pages
"In her second collection, Portland poet Mary Szybist gives voice to the passions and desires, both spiritual and carnal, or butterflies and seagulls, mothers and children, Mary and Gabriel. In conception and aging, children's games and medieval cruelties, she probes the meeting of faith and flesh, drawing moving truths in such disparate sources as the flight of pigeons and the Starr Report."Oregon Humanities
"In this highly anticipated second book from Szybist (Granted), love poetry and poetry of religious faith blend and blur into one transcendent, humbled substance . . . whether or not readers are attuned to the religious content, these are gorgeous lyrics, in traditional and invented forms—one poem is a diagrammed sentence while another radiates from an empty space at the center of the page—which create close encounters with not-quite-paraphrasable truths. This is essential poetry."Publishers Weekly, starred review
“Szybist’s newest collection, Incarnadine, pulses with its titular rosy glow. . . . Ultimately, Incarnadine paints a portrait of its author—longing for motherhood, questioning the divine, watching patterns of sunlight through her curtains and playing with her words. In her letter-style poem 'To Gabriela at the Donkey Sanctuary,' she puts it simply: 'What I want is what I’ve always wanted. What I want is to be changed.'”Willamette Week
"Incarnadine . . . is an inventive, experimental take on spirituality in verse."—New Orleans Public Radio
"Incarnadine flows from page to page like a letter from an old friend. . . . It's well worth the deviation from your regular reading to bask in the rosy glow of Incarnadine."—Penelope Bass, Willamette Week, "The Best Book I Read This Year"
"Mary Szybist's collection is thoughtful, moving and beautifully wrought. Using a variety of poetic forms and rich, descriptive language, Szybist uses the Annunciation as a springboard to explore nature, adolescence, death, time, politics, and the sacred."The Ivy Book Blog
"While sharply examining womanhood through Mary, mother of Jesus, Szybist also examines 'Mary,' the modern woman, teacher, and wife. Whether the subject is personal, historical, religious, or political, each poem reads like a meditation on a minor annunciation—the ephemeral beginning of a great, soul-testing event. Incarnadine, like the best poetry, invites us to contemplate the delicacy and potential of a single moment."—Northwest Book Lovers
"With its quiet compassion, plainspokenness, unearthly music, and innovative formal inventions—which function almost like flirtations, a kind of promise of another system of knowing/thinking/feeling—Incarnadine leaves me, as Szybist writes, with 'the happy idea that what I do not understand is more real than what I do . . .'"On the Seawall
"Gabriel and Mary's collision, in Szybist's hands, is electrifying, becoming metaphor for the experience of being chosen (or not) and for the feeling of being deeply changed (or not). . . . And what she has produced in her study of the old stories and paintings—tapestries of angels and gods—is a sense of doubleness entirely contemporary. She is a poet full of wishes, but she is unwilling to make anything seem to be what it is not."—Jesse Nathan, Coldfront
"One gets the sense that [Syzbist] held onto each of these poems until they became as luminous and well-formed as a glass sculpture. . . . Szybist gives us poems that wrestle with the same mysteries and contradictions we all face on a daily basis, doing our best, and often failing, to make sense of them. Somehow, she has managed to make lasting art of our human failings; she has turned our sometimes humorous, sometimes serious engagements with confusion into a beautiful, grace-filled book that was more than worth the wait."Basalt
"In its imaginative force [Szybist] invigorates the genre of devotional poetry with an uncommonly light yet vibrant touch. . . . What intelligence cannot explicate Szybist boldly advances through and beyond in poems that dramatize the state of spiritual change with a Dickinson-like originality and poise."–World Literature Today