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Portland poet Mary Szybist wins National Book Award

by: JODI KABANA/OPB - Poet Mary Szybist recently won a National Book Award.Poet Mary Szybist has won a National Book Award for Poetry. Szybist teaches at Lewis and Clark College. Her poetry collection, Incarnadine, weaves spiritual inquiry with reflections on motherhood, mortality, and more.

In her acceptance speech Wednesday night, which was webcast live, Szybist spoke of her occasional ambivalence toward poetry, but also of what she called, "the miracle of how much it can do", and the power of poems to make her consider things outside of her experience.

She recalled, "I think often of the words of Paul Connolly, who said, 'I believe it is not arguing well, but speaking differently that changes the culture.' Poetry is the place where speaking differently is the most prevalent."

Szybist has said that during the process of writing what became Incarnadine, she was particularly drawn to the Annunciation — the biblical story of the Virgin Mary encountering an angel who informs her that she has been chosen to bear the son of God.

She said the biblical Mary "dominated my consciousness in ways I really wrestled with. This icon … is held up for being a mother and a virgin, and I am neither." Szybist says she tries to understand what Mary stands for and how she can be remade imaginatively.

Szybist will receive a $10,000 prize for the honor.