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Incarnadine: Poems

4.08 of 5 stars 4.08  ·  rating details  ·  414 ratings  ·  80 reviews
The anticipated second book by the poet Mary Szybist, author of Granted, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award

* A Finalist for the 2013 National Book Award for 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.”

In Incarnadine, Mary
Paperback, 72 pages
Published February 5th 2013 by Graywolf Press
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Tenth of December by George SaundersBlack Aperture by Matt RasmussenPacific by Tom DruryThe End of the Point by Elizabeth GraverThe Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner
2013 National Book Award Longlist
30th out of 40 books — 2 voters
Dreaming My Animal Selves/Le Songe de Mes Ames Animales by Helene CardonaTenth of December by George SaundersWhy We Never Talk About Sugar by Aubrey HirschIncarnadine by Mary SzybistOn Sal Mal Lane by Ru Freeman
Best Books of 2013!
4th out of 16 books — 3 voters

More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,526)
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T.D. Whittle
This is so beautiful, in so many ways. Szybist is a new favourite poet of mine, now that I have just finished both this book of poems and Granted, her first published collection. These are modern contemplative pieces that are well introduced by the two quotes Sybist has included at the beginning:

The mysteries of faith are degraded if they are made into an object of affirmation and negation, when in reality they should be an object of contemplation. -- Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

Repose had aga
Rather disappointed in this collection. It may be due to my fanfare for Frank Bidart's collection, which was also shortlisted for the National Book Award, or my recent realization that so many poetry grab for the sentimental as an excuse to avoid true perfection. There were a lot of great moments, especially her combination of Lolita with statements about the Clinton affair, but so much was drown out in sentimentality and cutesy nods to falling asleep on yoga mats and other such modern-day middl ...more
Meg Storey (Editor, Tin House Books): The best reading experience I had in the month of February was a live reading. Mary Szybist’s second poetry collection, Incarnadine: Poems, was released by Graywolf this month, and since Szybist is a local poet (and Tin House Summer Writer’s Workshop faculty member and a personal friend), I had the pleasure of attending her book launch at Powell’s. Hearing her reinterpretations of the Annunciation and her observations of motherhood (there is a particularly h ...more
Wow. Wow wow wow.

I did not think I was going to enjoy this as much as I did, as her last collection, Granted, was a bit of a hit or miss for me. But this. Wow... just wow.

I find it difficult to articulate just WHY I adore this so much. There were a few in here that just completely and utterly punched me in the gut. Namely, "An Update on Mary" was so heartbreaking. Overall, this collection was so personal, so illuminating, so vulnerable and beautifully written and set up, picking from across all
Ron Charles
“All you can do is fail,” said Mary Szybist about the challenge of measuring herself against the ideal of the Virgin Mary.

“There’s something profoundly inhuman about her. She is valued because she is a mother and because she is a virgin. And I am not either. So how do you make your way in the world as a woman when you are not aspiring to and cannot be valued for either of those and do not want to be valued for either of those?”

Szybist, who won a National Book Award last year for “Incarnadine,” w
Andrew Crocker

Quiet. The rhythm of these poems didn't take immediately. Szybist's subjects are different than what I would typically read and probably even contemporary poetry as a whole. Her point of focus would seem to be religion and at first glance is, with half of the collections titles starting with 'Annunciation' after the Annunciation, yet is never so obvious. Once the rhythm caught, around the second half of the book, I found myself going back to the first part to re-read those poems I took nothing a

Kevin Lawrence
It is smart of Mary Szybist to begin her collection with a poem called "The Toubadours Etc.," and with the opening line: "Just for this evening, let's not mock them." It self-consciously addresses a contemporary audience that I think Szybist suspects is choking on its own post-modern jadedness and so she preemptively implores us mildly not to mock. Fair enough -- this is a serious poet with a serious subject: revisiting the Annunciation and repurposing that heavily-fraught scene for some of her ...more
Bob Lopez
A couple of five-star poems in an otherwise three-star collection. My reading notes:

Troubadours Etc.: Seemed to be about a road trip. Then about migrating birds. Then it feels like an unwanted end “the last of the sunlight is disappearing” and “try to come closer-/my wonderful and less than.”

Annunciation: Seems to be about grass from the perspective of the grass feeling the sun. “how many moments did it hover” and “even the shadows her chin made/never touched but reached just past”

Update on Mary
I never thought anyone would rival Mary Oliver - but Szybist's poems were equally beautiful and moving.
Lee Razer
Disappointed to find that most of these National Book Award winning poems didn't register much with me. She changes form a good deal, using found text poetry, shape poetry, prose poetry, etc., which probably impresses judges but tends to distract me, and I dislike found poetry anyway (stop doing that, people!). And the personal poems here I found dull.

But! This collection is named for a series of poems around the Annunciation, and "Conversion Figure" and "Annunciation in Play" I really liked. Th
Abigail Gao
Beautifully and thoughtfully written. the ideas and spirit are very touching and very enjoyable to read.
I was sitting in the carpet, reading it with great enjoyment. Sometimes, the words are so quiet in heart yet with strong clarity in mind and with assertive self-awareness, the thought is unstoppably fluent and deep, like deep ocean waves searching and entered my heart as if it knows where to harbor at.

The author catches the deep and common life of a woman's heart with such a sensitivity. The
John Orman
A resident of Portland and a teacher at Lewis & Clark college, Szybist portrays the Annunciation as an iconic moment in which the spiritual meets the humane.

In one tender poem, Fender's Blue Butterfly intermingles with Kincaid's Lupine plants, portrays some elitist butterflies!

"As skull: Fissured, as unlit chandelier".

Som pretty good lines here, though the poems do not seem to hang together well.
This is a wonderful work of poetry, and is beautifully made into a book by Graywolf Press. I don't resonate with this like I do with some books of poetry, but that is because this book isn't specifically written for me. Every book has its ideal audience, its ideal reader, and I have friends that very likely will be that for this book. That said, I am quite impressed and moved by many of the poems of this book, and it is a fine accomplishment and recommended reading, especially for those who are ...more
A brilliant book, very much of our climate, and those of us poets pitching out couplets by the score, or romancing footnotes, or trying to find infancy's grand collage, had better take a look. What we crave from Mary Szybist's poems is her chthonic sense of scale, her linguistic ground, but what we do not expect, or on the basis of Granted, which I, anyway, very much liked, did not expect, is this volume's formal invention and really, audacity. There are some stunning things here, not least the ...more
We read this for a book club, and I loved it, but my fellow readers didn't find it as awesome as I did. I really liked how Mary managed to examine the Annunciation from so many different perspectives, the grass growing underfoot, the Angel Gabriel, Mary, and more. She compared it to current events in found poems (maybe found poems?) and even compared it to Nabokov's Lolita. As a former Catholic, I caught allusions others might have missed. I loved "It is Pretty to Think" which was written as a d ...more
Likely the widest variety of form I have seen in a collection. Varied topics. Several "annunciation" poems. Religious stories and news stories and relationships as inspiration. (She uses the word "edge" a lot.)


"Just for this evening, won't you put me before you
until I'm far enough away you can
believe in me?" - The Troubadours Etc.

"From above, you looked small
as an afterthought, something lightly brushed in." - Conversion Figure

"This is what it's like to be alive without you he
Harrison Gearns
I'm giving her a four because she deserves it, not to indicate that I loved the book. She writes with extreme density and, simultaneously, light-heartedness. There's a texture to this book that isn't normally found in contemporary poems. She is unafraid of saying her piece. The religious thread that runs through the book is at once distrustful and accepting. Though she may or may not have found peace, the collection asks you to be at peace with the liminality of faith.

Jenny (Reading Envy)
I picked this up because it was longlisted for the National Book Award in poetry in 2013.

Religious under/overtones? Yes, although I'm not always certain if they are favorable or critical. The poet Mary plays with the idea of Mary in a myriad of ways, and the poems are emotional and musing. I enjoyed them even if I wasn't always sure I knew what was going on. There is also a lot of bird imagery, which makes me think of a certain Catholic I know.
Karen Witzler
The poet takes incarnation as her theme and many of these poems are stalked by the Virgin , that Angel, and other artists' renderings of them through time. (NB: Reviews are notes to myself, star ratings similarly are for me and myself alone and I generally only use one, three or five - anything not a one or a five gets a three. Stories of authors contacting readers on this site make me feel quite inhibited.)
May 11, 2014 Jane rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: anyone who loves poetry
Recommended to Jane by: Mary Lynn
Shelves: poetry
A must read for poetry lovers. Szybist has written an incredibly modern and dazzling book entirely focused on The Annunciation. In case anyone think this is a religious tract, here's the opening epigraph:

The mysteries of faith are degraded if they are made
into an object of affirmation and negation, when in
reality they should be an object of contemplation.
--Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace

One poem is written from the perspective of the grass on which Mary kneels, another, "It is Pretty to Think
This is a stunning book. I love the way the poems merge music, innovative form, narrative, and lyrical elegance, offering so many rich and surprising ways to read/re-read the annunciation across history and through unexpected pairings. I love the overall shape of the collection as well, the way these powerful poems talk to each other.
Nicole Testa
I found myself really drawn to certain themes carried throughout the entirety of the book - closeness without being too close, knowing without knowing it all, wanting to discover but not ever completely discovering. However, I never got into a rhythm with Szybist's writing. She uses an impressive variety of forms and structures and tones, which I admire, and which is kind of amazing to see in a book of this stature - what with everyone always driving home the idea that one needs a "singular voic ...more
* I won this book for free through the Goodreads first reads program.

Poetry quinch's the souls thirst, and this book has really done that for me. They were all great and wonderfull in there own way. I really enjoyed the book.
Religious in the best sense, religion without polemic, Catholic with a Big R and little R, hugely cultured, convinces by example and beauty. The opening quote from Simone Weil gets it right, that the sprit's most beautiful things shouldn't really be a matter of affirmation or negation as much as of contemplation, of always remaining a mystery never fully grasped, the uncomprehended always at play in the world, using us to utter something, always that half-heard sound we keep drinking more deeply ...more
Szybist presents an accessible collection of thirty-four cleverly constructed poems. Many of the poems are reflections on the Christian story of the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary that she is to bear the messiah, but the reflections are not always conventionally religious, many are sensual, a few carnal, two borrow quotes by public figures from public documents and build her text around them, and one redacts the gospel text to emphasize the awesome fear of the encounter. There is also a poem pr ...more
Good and in many places great or inspired. But at times it suffered from the same issue that. "Stay Illusion" suffered from: being too obtuse.

But the concept that God and His host of angels would and are incarnate on earth and at that place is where art, poetry and Annunciation co-exist is simply inspired and inspirational.

Missed being a "5-star" only because some of the poems were way too far out there for me.

In this little experiment I have been doing over the last week -- that being reading
The unmentionable moments that escape us because we don't dare acknowledge them, the grass informing your body, impaling gently. The wisp of air that one feels, or makes, when a loved one glances your way, the unavoidable element of rape in love-making, including the Immaculate Conception--moments palpably or potentially transcendental in our lives, that are too scary to process...all of that and more are sounded in this incomparable collection of poems by Mary Szybist.

I'm reading this again fr
I'm not even halfway done and my obsession with this book is fierce.
Philip Gordon
Despite the acclaim and accolades this book has received, I'll be blunt: this is the type of poetry I hate. I could picture the reading in the same breathless fashion as other readings I've attended, for some reason a type of verse rooted in spiritual meanderings and over-annunciation of everything--a fitting descriptor, given the collection's usual subject matter.

These poems are trying too hard to be poems. The fact that they've been published in so many places makes me worry for the state of c
An interesting collection of poems to say the least. I think what I liked most about this specifically was the variety within the poems relating to 'one' specific issue. I also liked the tension in which Szybist actively resists leaning to either the spiritual or secular realm, and instead balances in the middle and lets the verse soak into the reader and take hold, leaving the discernment of what to do with this annunciation moment up to the reader.
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Poetry Readers Ch...: Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine Giveaway 5 14 Nov 24, 2013 09:13AM  
  • Black Aperture
  • Stay, Illusion: Poems
  • Metaphysical Dog
  • One with Others: [a little book of her days]
  • Lighthead
  • Life on Mars
  • Stag's Leap: Poems
  • Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations
  • Head Off & Split
  • Elegy Owed
  • Thrall
  • The Book of Goodbyes
  • Our Andromeda
  • Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys
  • Collected Poems
  • The Big Smoke
  • Dancing in Odessa
  • Black Zodiac
Mary Szybist is the author of a Granted, which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. She teaches at Lewis & Clark College and lives in Portland, Oregon.
More about Mary Szybist...
Granted The Contenders: Excerpts from the 2013 National Book Award Poetry Finalists

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“Without you my air tastes like nothing. For you I hold my breath.” 2 likes
“Soon you'll come down the stairs
to tell me something. And I'll say

okay. Okay. I'll say it
like that, say it just like

that, I'll go on being
your never-enough.”
More quotes…