Mary Szybist joined the residential staff as a teacher and counselor in 1993; she returned in 2003 as a teaching poet.
I live in Portland, Oregon with my husband, Jerry Harp, who is also a poet, and our cat Poor Tom. We moved to Portland to teach at Lewis & Clark College. As we are poetry teachers, it might be more succinct to say that poetry brought us to Portland.
I love the daily adventures of teaching poetry, and YWW taught me a lot about the kind of adventure that poetry could be in the classroom. Most of all, I love the process by which young writers create their voices. I think often of Yeats’s lines: The friends that have I do it wrong Whenever I remake a song, Should know what issue is at stake: It is myself that I remake.
I can’t seem to escape an obsession with Yeats; the grandeur of his vision has a hold of me. I’m also loving Bye-And-Bye, Selected Late Poems by Charles Wright, Jorie Graham’s P L A C E, Jennifer Grotz’s The Needle, On Tact and the Made-up World by Michele Glazer, Useless Landscapes or A Guide for Boys by D. A. Powell, For the Mountain Laurel by John Casteen, Troubled Tongues by Crystal Williams, Book of Hours by Marianne Boruch, and Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith.
Note: Mary has since won the 2013 National Book Award for Incarnadine, the collection she discusses below.
Right now I’m working on finishing my second book of poems, Incarnadine, which will be published by Graywolf Press this coming February. “Incarnadine” is a word that comes from the Latin “incarnato,” something made flesh. The book continues to explore some of the themes that have been central to me: the relationship between physical and spiritual desire and the way both are intertwined with the desire to know and be known. The presence of the human body is one of my central concerns: its fragility and needs, its transformations, and its distinctive life, even apart from the mind and will.
As of this moment, I have just one book in the world—Granted (Alice James Books, 2003)—and it is still a thrill to know that I have written and published a book that has reached at least a few readers.
I worked at YWW both as a counselor and as teacher. Both experiences enlarged my world, my artistic practice, and my sense of possibility as few experiences in my life have. I wish that I had had the opportunity to attend YWW as a student; I know it would have helped me become more open to myself—and to my own “multitudes”—much earlier than I did.
Follow your curiosity. Also, don’t try to tone down what is authentically strange about you. Write from that.