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Campus Poet Garners National Acclaim

Winter turned out to be a season of bounty for Mary Szybist, assistant professor of English. December brought news of a poetry fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA); February began with U.S. Poet Laureate Kay Ryan hand-selecting Szybist for one of two Witter Bynner Fellowships in Poetry from the Library of Congress; and over the past few months, her poems have appeared in the Kenyon Review, Tin House, Poetry, and the Iowa Review.

For a poet to achieve as much in an entire career would be remarkable, but for Szybist, who joined the Lewis & Clark faculty in 2004, the recent spate of success only extends the stunning trajectory set by her first book, Granted, which was a 2003 finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Poetry.

Szybist’s work on her second book of poems, tentatively titled Incarnadine, will be supported by the NEA fellowship, one of the foremost honors in the literary field, which awards $25,000 to published creative writers of exceptional talent, encouraging the production of new work and allowing writers the time and means to write.

“A grant like this is a boost of adrenaline to the writing process,” says Szybist. “As I’ve worked on my current manuscript for the last few years, I have cycled through periods of faith and doubt, both about the poems and the project as a whole. To have the NEA select my work for this distinction is a great gift of validation, and I am eager to return to my manuscript with a renewed sense of vigor and excitement.”

Szybist will also receive $10,000 from the Library of Congress, made possible by a grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation. The fellowships are awarded to two poets whose distinctive talents and craftsmanship merit wider recognition.

A finalist for Lewis & Clark’s 2008 Teacher of the Year, Szybist shares her passion for poetry with students and colleagues alike, inspiring appreciation for the art in the Lewis & Clark community and beyond.

“I feel fortunate to be working at an institution where artists as illustrious as Mary Szybist enhance our daily lives,” says Rishona Zimring, chair of the English department. “These recent awards honor Mary’s achievement as a rising star in the poetry world, but perhaps not all great poets are also great teachers: Mary is gifted at both. The ways she cultivates the love and the discipline of poetry in students are transformative, and immeasurably enrich our community.”

Apology
by Mary Szybist

I didn’t mean to say so much to you.
I should have thought to let the evening end
by looking at the stars subdued

into their antique blue and alabaster hues.
Such looking would have fit with my intent.
I didn’t mean to speak that way to you.

If I could take it back, I’d take it, undo
it, and replace it with the things I meant
to give–not what I let slip (it’s true)

like any pristine star of ornamental hue.
I do not always do what I intend.
I didn’t mean to say so much to you.

It slipped before I saw, before I knew.
Or do we always do what we intend?
Perhaps it’s true and all along I knew

what I was saying–but how I wanted you.
I should have thought to let the evening end.
The placid stars seemed filled and then subdued
by what I did and did not want to do.

Mary Szybist, “Apology” from Granted. Copyright © 2003 by Mary Szybist. Reprinted with the permission of Alice James Books.

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