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Incarnadine: Poems Paperback – February 5, 2013

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Editorial Reviews


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)

A religious book for a secular America, this is among the most arresting and inventive collections of the past few years. . . . [Szybist is] a restless formal experimenter and a humble, compassionate observer of the complicated glory of the world. If you read only one book of poetry this year, you're not reading enough poetry--but if it must be one, this should be it. (Craig Morgan Teicher, NPR, "Best Books of 2013")

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)

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)

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,

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. (Slate)

[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 artfully reconciles the legend of the Annunciation with our contemporary culture. . . . Incarnadine is sophisticated, wry, faithful, divine, contradictory, tragic and allusive. (The Rumpus)

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))

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)

Pulses with its titular rosy glow. . . . 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 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 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)

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 its darkest moments, she skillfully demonstrates as beautiful. (New Orleans Review)

Szybist's long-awaited second collection is a mirage of inventive, intense, dichotic poems. (Library Journal)

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)

About the Author

Mary Szybist is the author of a previous poetry collection, Granted, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She teaches at Lewis & Clark College and lives in Portland, Oregon.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 72 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; First Edition edition (February 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555976352
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555976354
  • Product Dimensions: 7.5 x 0.2 x 8.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (31 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #39,169 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By doc peterson VINE VOICE on March 3, 2014
Format: Paperback
The idea behind _Incarnadine_ intrigued me - a collection of poems inspired by and about the annunciation. The body of work itself is alternately beautiful, brilliantly clever, and unsettlingly intimate (how does one respond to the news that they are about to be the mother of god?) with a wry wit and sharp eye for detail and celebration in the common and mundane.

The variety of poetic styles, perspectives and conclusions Szybist makes in her poetry are not only beautiful, but fun - yes, fun - to read. "Annunication in Nabokov and Starr" for example, juxtapose segments from _The Starr Report_ (Kenneth Starr's investigation into the Lewinsky affair) with _Lolita_. In "Annunication in Byrd and Bush" Szybist similarly lifts segments from Sen. Robert Byrd's remarks to the Senate with former President H.W. Bush's address to a joint session of Congress. "How (Not) To Speak to God" is written in the form of the rays of a sun, each ray its own line with no clear beginning or end - which, I assume, is part of the point. "It Is Pretty to Think" takes on the form of a diagrammed sentence. Each of these has a playfulness that is so often removed from poetry it is a joy to read - much as (for Christians - and Mary, I imagine) there was joy in learning of the birth of Jesus.

This is not to suggest that the collection has anything of a religious focus - while the underlying theme is by definition religious in nature, Syzbist highlights the everyday beauty of life and the simple pleasure of ordinariness. For example, in "Update on Mary" Syzbist writes, "Mary always thinks that as soon as she gets a few more things done and finishes the dishes, she will open herself to God.
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33 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Elizabeth Aquino on March 23, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I stumbled upon this book of poetry because I was drawn to both the title and the painting the work referenced. I wasn't familiar with Mary Sybist and feel like I've made a discovery. Her poetry deeply resonates with me in its evocation of the body, the spirit and the melding of the two.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Claire N. on April 19, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine blew me away; it was thoughtful, honest, and considerate without being inaccessible. I had the opportunity to hear her read at Brigham Young University, and I was immediately impressed by her ability to craft language. I had read her poem “Girls Overheard While Assembling a Puzzle” prior to the reading, and was drawn to her ability to elevate the everyday and seemingly mundane into something extraordinarily thought provoking. The poetry featured in Incarnadine is no exception. There is a religious undertone to many of the poems – Szybist focuses on the Annunciation in all of its forms and interpretations – though she takes an unconventional and immensely refreshing approach to belief. Works such as “Annunciation (from the grass beneath them)” and “Annunciation as Fender’s Blue Butterfly with Kincaid’s Lupine” apply a naturalistic investigation to a religious experience. Szybist also explores spirituality in poems such as “The Cathars Etc.” in which she immerses the reader in history and presents intriguing questions. Many of her poems address grief, loss, and other sometimes-nebulous concepts with a clarity and humility that illuminates the commonalities we all share. One of my personal favorites was “Update on Mary,” in which Szybist offers a glimpse into the everyday, but by no means unimportant, aspects of her life. These observations range from the practical (her large collection of silver earrings) to the unexpectedly searching (beliefs she holds about herself). Though it is undoubtedly a personal poem, the ideas and tone are relatable. Overall, this is an excellent collection, and I would highly recommend it.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dallin Law on April 22, 2014
Format: Paperback
I heard Mary Szybist at a reading where she shared most of her poems from Incarnadine, and since then her voice has always come through so strongly for me when reading her poetry. This collection in particular glows with her voice’s calm, hushed sincerity. Her lines feel weighty and judiciously divided, and—increasingly rare in modern poetry—her poems resonate and propel forward when read aloud.
I don’t expect the religious poems will appeal to everyone, but I found them refreshing in their spiritual investigations. Mary explores the connection between her namesake and her life, at times reimagining the Anunciation, and at others casting herself as a modern Mary in more everyday annunciations. Szybist’s poems remind me of the Catholic art tradition as she explores every facet of the Biblical tradition, embellishing and beautifying. But Szybist also picks the story’s structures and expectations apart, casting them in a modern light, playing with their combinations. Her religious poems find the perfect balance, not disrespectfully ironic or critical, but not saccharine or simplistic. I found her tone honest and nuanced in exploration of faith.
I’ll offer one small criticism of some of her more inventive layouts. The whirlpool and the sunburst line arrangements didn’t convince me that they were very necessary or meaningful. I actually looked up a couple poems online to see the text in a block because I just was distracted by the strange layout.
That quibble aside, I know I’ll come back to this collection of poetry again and again, and for that I think it merits the National Book Award. Also, my inner book design geek loved the large format and beautiful typography. Highly recommended.
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