Mary Szybist is the author of two books of poetry: the eloquent and musical Granted, and winner of the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry, Incarnadine.
From her Q & A with Shara Lessley:
Shara Lessley: Incarnadine wrestles with the tension between spiritual alienation and astonishment. Do you agree with Dickinson’s description of faith as a ‘fine invention’? What has the imagination to do with matters spiritual?--Marshal Zeringue
Mary Szybist: I am inclined to agree with Dickinson on all matters, but I don’t think all faiths are equally fine or equally inventive. There is a difference, for example, between faith in a very particular conception or idea (i.e., faith in knowing) and faith in the reality of factors we can’t know or understand. Simone Weil tells us, ‘We know by means of our intelligence that what the intelligence does not comprehend is more real than what it does comprehend.’ That is a statement of a kind of faith that resonates with me, but it is not one that conjures the imagination’s ‘fine inventions.’ That is where poetry enters. Doesn’t any relationship to or conception of the spiritual depend on imagination?
The scene to which Incarnadine continually returns—the Annunciation—has long been a site of ‘fine invention,’ especially in the hands of artists like Simone Martini and Sandro Botticelli; it 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.
SL: Last month, Yale University Press released an anthology called Before the Door of God. Which elements of traditional devotional poetry do you borrow for Incarnadine? Are there lyric strategies you worked deliberately to avoid?
MS: Yes, I am seeking to extend some of the traditions of devotional poetry to more secular mediations. I am particularly thinking of the complex situation of faith in seventeenth-century metaphysical poems and the heterogeneity of images and ideas that enable them—disjunctions that pull us out of the ordinary. I have come to think of the ‘space’ these poems occupy as similar to...[read on]