In recent weeks, we’ve posted poems by all the nominees for this year’s National Book Award in Poetry. This past Wednesday, Mary Szybist was announced the winner for her book, Incarnadine. The judges’ citation read, in part:
In her gorgeous second collection Mary Szybist blends traditional and experimental aesthetics to recast the myth of the Biblical Mary for this era…. 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.
This weekend, we’ll post two poems from the book. In an interview on the National Book Foundation, Szybist said that the scene to which Incarnadine continually returns “portrays a human encountering something not human; it suggests that it is possible for us to perceive and communicate with something or someone not like us. That is part of what I find most moving about the scene: how it plays out the faith, the belief that that can happen—and can change us.”
We open with one of her most compelling poems evoking this encounter in a contemporary setting, “Annunciation Overheard from the Kitchen”:
I could hear them from the kitchen, speaking as if
something important had happened.
I was washing the pears in cool water, cutting
the bruises from them.
From my place at the sink, I could hear
a jet buzz hazily overhead, a vacuum
start up next door, the click,
click between shots.
“Mary, step back from the camera.”
There was a softness to his voice
but no fondness, no hurry in it.
There were faint sounds
like walnuts being dropped by crows onto the street,
almost a brush
of windchime from the porch—
Windows around me everywhere half-open—
My skin alive with the pitch.
(From Incarnadine © 2013 by Mary Szybist. Reprinted by kind permission of Graywolf Press. Photo by Rachel Zack)