Ondrej Pazdirek: Last week, Mary Szybist returned to UC for her second and final stint as our 2015 Elliston Poet. She left her students at Lewis & Clark College and flew into town on Tuesday, February 24—with the airport crew still clearing off the remnants of a busy snow week—and jumped right back to work with her temporarily adopted students: nine of us in John Drury’s graduate poetry workshop. From what I came to know about Mary, I now assume she was writing comments in the margins of our poetry packets even on the plane. She met with our class on Wednesday, and on Thursday met with each of us individually to discuss our work. She concluded her visit by delivering a second Master Class lecture, titled “Repetition and Resonance,” on Friday evening to a packed Elliston Room.
As the Elliston Poet-in-Residence, Mary was prepared for and fully devoted to her time in Cincinnati. An exceptionally attentive workshop leader, she was willing to consider each poem on its own terms, and on the terms of the writer, in addition to considering what it could be. As a poet, Mary struck me as someone who treasured each word, took a rare, quiet patience with every syllable, a poet serious about poetry, its success. In our January workshop, she quoted Ezra Pound’s alleged remark that it does not matter who writes the great poems; what matters is that they get written.
I believe I can speak on the behalf of my classmates, and perhaps even on behalf of other people who have had the chance to come into contact with Mary Szybist during her (albeit brief) stay, when I say that her two visits in Cincinnati were truly wonderful, and resonated with each one of us.
Mary Szybist is most recently the author of Incarnadine, winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry. She is the recipient of fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rona Jaffe Foundation, the Witter Bynner Foundation in conjunction with the Library of Congress, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center. Her first book, Granted, won the 2004 GLCA New Writers Award and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. A native of Williamsport, Pennsylvania, she now lives in Portland, Oregon, where she teaches at Lewis & Clark College.