Not since Adrienne Rich's early work has a collection thought so deeply about the permeable barrier between the spirit and the body, and motherhood ... Incarnadine reads like the book of a woman searching for something more. Szybist listens and watches, feels the signs of something greater ... Syzbist writes lucid, delicately precise lines that grow more steeply enjambed as she falls into her subject. Several poems here brilliantly evoke the vertigo of dropping from on high ... Incarnadine achieves its greatest intimacy in private spaces. How and what we receive — the ways we deal with experience — shapes identity. Incarnadine dramatizes the poet rejecting faith, failing at it, and then worrying what this says about her as she tries again ... In this extraordinary book, Mary Syzbist shows that if she were merely a woman, who lived once, that would have been more than enough.
Mary Szybist speaks with such yearning for Mary’s divine conception. But she is also Mary, a 39-year-old woman '…who has become one of those childless women who reads too much about the death of children' (from 'To Gabriela at the Donkey Sanctuary'). The job of a 21st Century poet, like Carl Phillips, like Mary Szybist is to make illogical logics like faith natural, not just divine ... Szybist artfully reconciles the legend of the Annunciation with our contemporary culture ... sophisticated, wry, faithful, divine, contradictory, tragic and allusive.
...an oddly quiet and disquieting collection ... The book is a mix of good manners and postmodern invention. At her most outlandish (a poem in the form of a sentence diagram, for instance), Szybist still sounds relatively conventional. At her most conventional, she’s up to something strange ... At times, her language feels uninspired, immaterial. There’s something too plain about it, too willing to settle for an ideal that has gotten small—'Already it’s hard to remember / how you used to comb your hair'—and then some repeated note reframes it, and then, a couple pages later, Szybist has made it haunting again.
Szybist’s second book, Incarnadine, is even more deeply fueled by her ability to fasten the individual to the archetypal and so achieve a mythic resonance within her deeply spiritual and disquietingly explosive lyrics ... Like Didion in The Year of Magical Thinking, or fellow poet Louise Glück in her harrowing and mythic Averno, Szybist possesses the ability to ask the most terrifying questions—'What slouches // toward us?'—without flinching. Neither does she try to piece together some impossibly hopeful explanation for the violence, terror, and inexplicable suffering rife in our world ... Szybist’s speakers are simultaneously appalled by and drawn to that trope of darkness that courses through Incarnadine.
...whether or not readers are attuned to the religious content, these are gorgeous lyrics, in traditional and invented forms—one poem is a diagrammed sentence while another radiates from an empty space at the center of the page—which create close encounters with not-quite-paraphrasable truths. This is essential poetry.