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Incarnadine: Poems

4.14  ·  Rating Details  ·  783 Ratings  ·  108 Reviews
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 Szybist restlessly seeks out places where meaning might take on new color. One poem is presented as a diagrammed sentence. Another is an abecedarium made of lines of dialogue spoken by
Paperback, 72 pages
Published February 5th 2013 by Graywolf Press
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Weeds And Wild Flowers by Alice OswaldThe Will to Change by Adrienne RichWhat the Living Do by Marie HoweNature by May SwensonThe Dead and the Living by Sharon Olds
Best Contemporary Female Poets
25th out of 41 books — 1 voter
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

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,427)
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T.D. Whittle
Sep 28, 2014 T.D. Whittle rated it it was amazing
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
Aug 22, 2014 s.penkevich rated it it was ok
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
Jun 05, 2016 Leola rated it it was amazing
Here, There Are Blueberries

When I see the bright clouds, a sky empty of moon and stars,
I wonder what I am, that anyone should note me.

Here there are blueberries, what should I fear?
Here there is bread in thick slices, of whom should I be afraid?

Under the swelling clouds, we spread our blankets.
Here in this meadow, we open our baskets

to unpack blueberries, whole bowls of them,
berries not by the work of our hands, berries not by the work of our fingers.

What taste the bright world has, whole fields
Kevin Lawrence
Oct 31, 2013 Kevin Lawrence rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
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
Aug 08, 2016 D.A. rated it it was amazing
One of those books that invites endless re-reading, it is both contemporary and timeless in its vast reach.
Dec 26, 2015 Robin rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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
Andrew Crocker
Dec 04, 2013 Andrew Crocker rated it liked it

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

Ron Charles
Oct 05, 2014 Ron Charles rated it it was amazing
“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
Brittany Picardi Ruiz
Jul 16, 2015 Brittany Picardi Ruiz rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
The strength of Incarnadine as a collection is a result of the muscle of the individual poems. There is an almost dizzying array of forms collected here, each uniquely suited to the content of the poem. Some poems are fairly traditional, with mid-length lines. Other poems are prosaic, with lines stretching across the wide page. One particularly spectacular poem, “How (Not) to Speak of God,” features eighteen lines arrayed in a starburst pattern with no beginning or ending. These varied forms giv ...more
Jun 09, 2014 Dain rated it it was amazing
I never thought anyone would rival Mary Oliver - but Szybist's poems were equally beautiful and moving.
World Literature Today
"Szybist’s style is unusual in its imaginative force she invigorates the genre of devotional poetry with an uncommonly light yet vibrant touch. Conflating the mythic and the ordinary, the carnal and the sacred, her poems consider the range of ways in which annunciative confrontations that transform the spirit and heal the soul might occur in modern life." - Rita Signorelli-Pappas, Princeton, New Jersey

This book was reviewed in the November 2014 issue of World Literature Today. Read the full revi
Jack Chelgren
Oct 02, 2015 Jack Chelgren rated it it was amazing
Pretty stinking good
Dec 03, 2014 Celeste rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, faves, own
A perfect book.


"The Troubadours Etc."

Just for this evening, let's not mock them.
Not their curtsies or cross-garters
or ever-recurring pepper trees in their gardens
promising, promising.

At least they had ideas about love.

All day we've driven past cornfields, past cows poking their heads
through metal contraptions to eat.
We've followed West 84, and what else?
Irrigation sprinklers fly past us, huge wooden spools in the fields,
lounging sheep, telephone wires,
yellowing flowering shrubs.

Philip Gordon
Jun 11, 2014 Philip Gordon rated it it was ok
Shelves: poetry, 2014
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
Bob Lopez
Oct 12, 2013 Bob Lopez rated it liked it
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
Will Owen
Aug 05, 2015 Will Owen rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015, poetry, spirituality
A beautiful, creative, and sometimes jarring (in a good way) collection. The book is centered around poetic meditations of the Annunciation, all of them beautifully crafted. Some of these captivated me, others not so much. In general I preferred the non-Annunciation poems in the collection, many of which capture the sense of "nothing" at the heart of "everything." A very good read.
Ben G
Feb 19, 2015 Ben G rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
It's interesting. Starts off as a lyric, then moves to a more modern line construction. Not nearly as thematic as I expected - it's more of a collection than a single narrative. Often reads like poetry written by prose writers. (E.g., "Here's what needs to happen here" vs. "Here's a line that feels like it belongs here")

Really goes out of her way to explain the hell out of herself - 1/4 poems have a provided quote or reference, and end-notes are provided as a decoder. I tend to prefer a willing
Jul 19, 2016 Sasha rated it it was amazing
One of my contemporary poetry Bibles, and Gorgeous as ever.

(read: June 2013, May/June 2015, July 2016. Perfect summer-season read when one is surrounded by a Pacific Northwest blaze of green and aqua colors and flowers in blue, red, pink, yellow."

Really one could about turn to any page and pick something worth underlining, fit to write down in one's notebook and press to one's chest to savor the lushness of it.

"Days go by when I do nothing but underline the damp edge of myself.

What I want is wh
Lee Razer
Sep 25, 2014 Lee Razer rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
Aug 20, 2014 Abigail Gao rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2014
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
Apr 24, 2014 John Orman rated it liked it
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
Apr 05, 2014 Kelly rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
Michelle Despres
May 12, 2014 Michelle Despres rated it really liked it
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
May 07, 2013 Harrison Gearns rated it really liked it
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)
Sep 30, 2013 Jenny (Reading Envy) rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: owlbite
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
Dec 21, 2013 Karen Witzler rated it liked it
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 it was amazing
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
Nov 07, 2014 Kassie rated it liked it
I don't even know what to say. This book has one a million awards and sometimes I can tell why but most of the time I don't understand. I'd also say this warrants a 2.7 but I rounded up.

I loved "The Troubadors, Etc", "Update on Mary", "Anunciation under Erasure", "On Wanting to Tell [ ] About a Girl Eating Fish Eyes", and "Holy". I really understood why she won so many awards because I think the writing for those poems is amazing and the story they tell ranges from very obvious to a bit obscure
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Poetry Readers Ch...: Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine Giveaway 5 14 Nov 24, 2013 09:13AM  
  • Stay, Illusion: Poems
  • Black Aperture
  • Transfer of Qualities
  • Lighthead
  • Bewilderment: New Poems and Translations
  • Head Off & Split
  • Metaphysical Dog
  • One with Others: [a little book of her days]
  • Radial Symmetry
  • Trances of the Blast
  • Late Wife
  • Slow Lightning
  • Native Guard
  • Dancing in Odessa
  • Elegy Owed
  • Migration: New and Selected Poems
  • Kingdom Animalia
  • Meadowlands
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.
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“Without you my air tastes like nothing. For you I hold my breath.” 9 likes
“But if I were this thing, my mind a thousand times smaller than my wings, if my fluorescent blue flutter finally stumbled into the soft aqua throats of the blossoms, if I lost my hunger for anything else— I’d do the same. I’d fasten myself to the touch of the flower. So what if the milky rims of my wings no longer stupefied the sky? If I could bind myself to this moment, to the slow snare of its scent, what would it matter if I became just the flutter of page in a text someone turns to examine me in the wrong color?” 4 likes
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