An Evening with Mary Szybist
On September 17, Mary Szybist visited CSU campus by invitation and offered a reading of her poetry. If you weren’t able to attend, here is the introduction given for Szybist before her reading, which may provide some insight into the nature of her poetry.
“Still bride of your own armor,” writes Mary Szybist in Incarnadine, winner of a National Book Award in 2013—“bride of your own blind eyes / this isn’t an appeal.” Yet, despite this speaker’s protestations to the contrary, appeal appears to be so much at the heart of this book—which itself arises as a careful, impassioned attempt to make entreaty, to defend oneself, to apologize for oneself in some form before a body, a body all-governing. Perhaps the speaker of these poems, these breath-taking, breathless acts of apos logos, or speeches in defense of one’s own speaking—perhaps such a speaker recognizes the futility of making appeal to (and through) so self-reflexive an idol as an artifact, as a made thing, where the appealing function of the poem’s apos logos is not merely a defense of one’s speaking, but in some way, a defense of one’s being, too. So much of Szybist’s poetry puts us on a precipice, on the tenuous line between body and mind, between being and word, a line itself embodied in her lines on the annunciation. The old story, of course: Gabriel comes to Mary and announces the Incarnation. Gabriel’s pronouncement, his words, articulate an immanence, an about-to-be-embodied, explored profoundly throughout Incarnadine, and in other ways—in meditations on what is given versus what is created—in 2003’s Granted. It is this immanence that Mary’s poetry probes—this about-to-be, along with a singular, provoking query as to whether one’s own sheer announcement can incarnate. Can self-incarnate. “So caught up in composing her flower, / she doesn’t feel his fingers / there and there, her neck exposed / to the spring air”: these lines beg achingly the question, in spite of composition, may yet composing return to us to sense, to feeling? To have faith in, or to speculate on bird, bush, donkey, lupine, grass, the things of the world, the things of the heart—can these become, in the announcement of the poem, in the made thing, more than contemplation, but actual tokens of affirmation and negation? After making my appeal, may I sentence myself to transcendence—that is, away from the sentence, back into immanence? This ancient alchemical project of the metaphysical poet is given new and fervent breath in Mary Szybist’s exquisite work—poems that seek to feel exquisitely, even as they are felt.
Author of Granted and Incarnadine, both books having garnered accolades and prestigious awards, Mary is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, and the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress. Originally from Pennsylvania, she now lives in Portland, Oregon and teaches at Lewis & Clark College.