The Pinnacle of Poetry

Mary Szybist, associate professor of English, wins the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry.

Mary Szybist, associate professor of English, wins the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry for her latest collection, Incarnadine.

Shortly before the National Book Award ceremony, at the insistence of her publisher, Mary Szybist quickly penned notes for an acceptance speech. Her second collection of poetry, Incarnadine, was one of five finalists for the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry. She didn’t expect to win; however, the judges thought otherwise. When her name was called, she accepted the honor—the most prestigious award in American letters along with the Pulitzer Prize—with her characteristic grace.

“There’s plenty that poetry cannot do,” she said. “But the miracle, of course, is how much it can do—how much it does do.”

Incarnadine moves through a variety of imaginings of the iconic annunciation scene between Mary and the angel Gabriel. “I grew up with the name of Mary attending the Church of the Annunciation, so she was an icon I spent a lot of time literally looking at and contemplating,” says Szybist. “I returned to this scene in my book, thinking about ways to get out from its shadow and free it from its stillness.”

Szybist has taught at Lewis & Clark since 2004. Named the college’s Teacher of the Year in 2010, she shares her passion for poetry with students and colleagues alike, inspiring appreciation for the arts in the Lewis & Clark community and beyond.

  • Incarnadine explores religious iconography and was inspired by time spent in the art museums of Italy.

    Graywolf Press, 2013. 72 pages.

Szybist regularly teaches introductory and advanced poetry writing classes. She also helps coordinate the college’s visiting poets series, which is a collaboration with the English department and Watzek Library’s Special Collections.

Lewis & Clark has a rich history in poetry. Szybist’s award comes 50 years after William Stafford, who also taught at the college, won the same honor for Traveling Through the Dark. And in 2005, Vern Rutsala, professor emeritus of English, was a finalist for his collection The Moment’s Equation.

On the web:

Happy Ideas

I had the happy idea to fasten a bicycle wheel
to a kitchen stool and watch it turn.

I had the happy idea to suspend some blue globes in the air 

and watch them pop.

I had the happy idea to put my little copper horse on the shelf so we could stare at each other all evening.

I had the happy idea to create a void in myself.

Then to call it natural.

Then to call it supernatural.

I had the happy idea to wrap a blue scarf around my head and spin.

I had the happy idea that somewhere a child was being born who was nothing like Helen or Jesus except in the sense of changing everything.

I had the happy idea that someday I would find both pleasure and punishment, that I would know them and feel them,

and that, until I did, it would be almost as good to pretend.

I had the happy idea to call myself happy.

I had the happy idea that the dog digging a hole in the yard in the twilight had his nose deep in mold-life.

I had the happy idea that what I do not understand is more real than what I do, 

and then the happier idea to buckle myself

into two blue velvet shoes.  

I had the happy idea to polish the reflecting glass and say 

hello to my own blue soul. Hello, blue soul. Hello.

It was my happiest idea.

Mary Szybist. “Happy Ideas,” from Incarnadine. Copyright © 2013 by Mary Szybist. Reprinted with the permission of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis,