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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Mary Szybist explores faith and connection

Mary Szybist reads from her works. Photo by Shadman Asif.
Mary Szybist reads from her works. Photo by Shadman Asif.

On Thursday, Oct. 9, Mary Szybist read from her second book of poems, “Incarnadine”, as part of the Writers@Grinnell series.

“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.” Szybist’s book opens with this epigraph from “Gravity and Grace” by Simone Weil, and in accordance with this idea, engages with the biblical story of the Annunciation from a contemporary perspective.

Szybist read six of her poems and pointed to William Butler Yeats’s “Leda and the Swan” as a source of haunting inspiration for the concept of divine-human encounters. She went on to share experiences from her own life that she used to shape the scenes for these poems.

When asked about how she came up with the scenes of a poem, Szybist noted the importance of telling a story within a poem.

“I like the idea of a poem itself being an encounter, rather than just being something still,” Szybist said. “I like the idea of drama in poems and I like poems that have some sort of dramatic encounter in the poem.”

“If I didn’t need to write, I wouldn’t,” Szybist said in answer to a question about the beginning of her poetry-writing career. She went on to detail her experience while enrolled for a teaching degree, and explained how shifting from a literary community to one that did not have such an intellectual orientation helped her figure out what was really driving her.

Szybist highlighted the fact that the relationships formed during years of undergraduate work were likely to be the most helpful and constructive ones and emphasized the importance of forming these relationships in a place, like Grinnell, that fosters artistic communities.

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