Mary Szybist & Robert Wrigley

Libby Lewis Photography

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Mary Szybist & Robert Wrigley

Past Event: Tuesday, September 29, 2015

At McCaw Hall — Nesholm Family Lecture Hall

Co-Presented by Seattle Met. Sponsored by KPLU 88.5 FM, Poetry Northwest, The Seattle Times.

Mary Szybist is a poet who is described by Robert Hass as having “a gift for music, a gift for aphorism, a gift for being haunted.” She is the recipient of numerous awards including the Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, two Pushcart Prizes, and the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry for her most recent work, Incarnadine. She has also received fellowships and residencies from many institutions, such as the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Rockefeller Foundation’s Bellagio Center in Bellagio, Italy.

The National Book Award Committee calls Incarnadine, “a religious book for nonbelievers, or a book of necessary doubts for the faithful.” The language of the book explores the relationship between prayer and poem as it circles around the biblical moment of Annunciation, when Gabriel tells Mary she will birth the Son of God. Szybist has been interested in this relationship since childhood, “when I was young, I reached a point where I found myself unable to pray. I was devastated by it. I missed being able to say words in my head that I believed could be heard by a being, a consciousness outside me. That is when I turned to poetry.”

Her first book of poetry, Granted, has also received numerous praise and was a finalist for the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award.

Szybist spent her childhood in Pennsylvania and earned degrees from the University of Virginia and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. She now lives in Portland, Oregon where she teaches English at Lewis & Clark College and is a faculty member of the Warren Wilson College MFA Program for Writers.


If I can believe in air, I can believe
in the angels of air.

Angels, come breathe with me.

Angel of abortion, angel of alchemy,
angels of barrenness & battlefields & bliss,
exhale closer. Let me feel
your breath on my teeth—

I call to you, angels of embryos,
earthquakes, you of forgetfulness—
be dutiful: tilt my head back.

Angels of infection, cover my mouth
and nose with your mouth.

Failed inventions, lift my chin.

Angels of prostitution and rain,
you of sheerness & sorrow,

you who take nothing, breathe into
my silence. You who have cleansed your lips

with fire, I do not need to know
your faces. I do not need you
to have faces.

Angels of water insects, let me sleep
to the sound of your breathing.

You without lungs, make my chest rise—

Without you, my air tastes
like nothing. For you
I hold my breath.

Annunciation Overheard from the Kitchen

I could hear them from the kitchen, speaking as if
something important had happened.

I was washing the pears in cool water, cutting
the bruises from them.
From my place at the sink, I could hear

a jet buzz hazily overhead, a vacuum
start up next door, the click,
click between shots.

“Mary, step back from the camera.”

There was a softness to his voice
but no fondness, no hurry in it.

There were faint sounds
like walnuts being dropped by crows onto the street,
almost a brush
of windchime from the porch—

Windows around me everywhere half-open—

My skin alive with the pitch.

Selected Works
Incarnadine (2013) – Winner of the 2013 National Book Award for Poetry, a Publisher’s Weekly Top Five Poetry Book of 2013, and Amazon’s Best Book of the Year in Poetry
Granted (2003) – Finalist for the 2003 National Book Critics Circle Award, and winner of the 2004 Great Lakes Colleges Association of New Writers Award and 2002 Beatrice Hawley Award

Mary Szybist’s homepage
A World Beyond the Glass: An Interview with Mary Szybist
Amazon Book Review: Q&A with National Book Award Winner Mary Szybist
Interview With Mary Szybist, 2013 National Book Award Winner, Poetry
Mary Szybist reads from Incarnadine: Poems, 2013 NBA Finalists Reading
Intolerable Tenderness: A Review of Mary Szybist’s Incarnadine
The Chronicle of Higher Education: ‘Happy Ideas,’ by Mary Szybist
Mary Szybist Accepts the 2013 National Book Award in Poetry


Robert Wrigley’s career as a poet has spanned over 35 years, publishing ten books of poetry. His most recent, Anatomy of Melancholy & Other Poems (2013), received the 2014 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award. His work has been included in numerous literary journals, magazines, and anthologies, such as Best American Poetry, The Atlantic, and The NewYorker. His awards range from six Pushcart Prizes to the Poetry magazine’s Frederick Bock Prize and the Poetry Society of America’s Celia B. Wagner Award. He has also received numerous fellowships, including the Rockefeller Foundation, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

His work has been called nature poetry, rustic poetry, and western poetry. While he “joke[s] that the only adjective [he] likes seeing applied to the noun ‘poet’ when it’s aimed [at him] is ‘living,’” he acknowledges his work is very much grounded in the American Northwest environment, specifically his home state, Idaho. His most recent book of poems, Anatomy of Meloncholy & Other Poems, recounts a “tale of mournful misfits who labor at a trash dump” including Lucifer, who will only respond to the “womanly diminutive” Lucy. Paul Lindholt of Poetry Northwest describes the book as having a “force of both parable and ambiguity in the telling, since Wrigley is a master of the complex sentence folded deftly against the rhythm of each line.”

Wrigley grew up in Collinsville, Illinois where much of his family worked in the coal mines. He was able to leave that life for a life of poetry by earning his BA in English Language & Literature at Southern Illinois University in 1974, becoming the first in his family to graduate from college. Two years later, he earned his MFA in Poetry from the University of Montana and studied with Madeline DeFrees and Richard Hugo.

Wrigley currently lives in Clearwater River, Idaho with his wife Kim Barnes, a fiction writer and memoirist, and children. He has taught at many universities, including Lewis & Clark College, University of Montana, Warren College, and is currently the Director of University of Idaho’s MFA Program in Creative Writing.

[section of] Anatomy of Melancholy

Lucy Doolin, first day on the job, stroked his goatee
and informed the seven of us in his charge
his name was short for Lucifer, and that his father, a man
he never knew, had been possessed,
as his mother had told him, of both an odd sense of humor
and a deep and immitigable bitterness. Also
that the same man had named Lucy’s twin brother,
born dead, Jesus Christ. These facts, he said,
along with his tattoos and Mohawked black hair,
we should, in our toils on his behalf, remember.

As we should also always remember to call him
only by that otherwise most womanly diminutive,
and never, he warned, by his given nor surname,
least of all with the title “Mister” attached,
which would remind him of that same most hated father
and plunge him therefore into a mood
he could not promise he would, he said, “behave
appropriately within.” Fortunately, our job,
unlike the social difficulties attached thereto,
was simple: collect the trash from the county’s back roads.

The Afterlife


Spring, and the first full crop of dandelions gone
to smoke, the lawn lumpish with goldfinches,
hunched in their fluffs, fattened by seed,
alight in the wind-bared peduncular forest.
Little bells, they loop and dive, bend
the delicate birch branches down.
I would enter the sky through the soil
myself, sing up the snail bowers
and go on the lam with the roots.
Licked by filaments, I would lie,
a billion love-mouths to suckle and feed.

Where the river will be next week,
a puddle two trout go savagely dying in.
Notice the bland, Darwinian sand: bone wrack
and tree skin, the ground down moon bowls
of mussels, viral stones dividing like mold.
At twelve, I buried the frog because it was dead
and dug it up because I’d been dreaming—
a fish belly light, a lowly chirruped chorus
of amens. I thought my nights might smell of hell.

Bland, hum-drum, quotidian guilt—if I’ve killed one frog, I’ve killed two.
Saint Rot and the sacraments of maggots:
knowing is humus and sustenance is sex.
It accrues and accrues, it stews
tumorous with delight. Tomorrow’s
a shovelful, the spit of the cosmos, one day
the baby’s breath is no longer a rose.

Selected Works
Anatomy of Melancholy & Other Poems (2013) – Winner of the 2014 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award
Beautiful Country (2010)
Earthly Meditations: New and Selected Poems (2006)
Lives of the Animals (2003) – Winner of the Poets’ Prize
Reign of Snakes (1999) – Winner of the Kingsley Tufts Award
In the Bank of the Beautiful Sins (1995) – Winner of the San Francisco Poetry Center Book Award and finalist for the Lenore Marshall Award
What My Father Believed (1991)
Moon in a Mason Jar (1986)
The Sinking of Clay City (1979)

Review: Robert Wrigley’s Anatomy of Melancholy and Other Poems
Robert Wrigley at Boston Court
Robert Wrigley: Interview & Two Poems
Poetry Northwest review
Kim Barnes & Robert Wrigley Interview

Event Details

McCaw Hall — Nesholm Family Lecture Hall

321 Mercer St
Seattle, WA 98109

View directions.

This event will be held in the Nesholm Family Lecture Hall. The Lecture Hall is located in the lower level of Marion Oliver McCaw Hall at Seattle Center. The entrance to the hall is on the north side of the building and east of the main entrance; it directly faces Mercer St. and the door is under the bridge to the Mercer Street Garage.

Transportation & Parking

By Car

  • From I-5
    Take Mercer Street exit (exit 167) and go straight onto Mercer Street westbound. Turn right onto 4th Avenue. Turn left to park in the Seattle Center Mercer Street Garage.
  • From Aurora/Hwy 99 Northbound
    Take the Western Avenue exit. Continue straight on Western Avenue. Turn right onto Battery Street. Turn left onto 1st Avenue. Turn right on Mercer Street. Continue down Mercer Street to drop off patrons directly in front of McCaw Hall, or turn left on 3rd or 4th Avenues to park in the Seattle Center Mercer Street Garage.
  • From Aurora/Hwy 99 Southbound
    Exit right on Roy Street. Turn left on 3rd Avenue North. Turn left to park in the Seattle Center Mercer Street Garage or proceed to the corner of 3rd Avenue and Mercer Street, turn left and proceed immediately to the far right lane to drop off patrons directly in front of McCaw Hall.

By Bus
Bus routes with Seattle Center stops include: 1, 2, 3, 4, 13, 15, 16, 18, 19, 24, 33, and 82. For more information about the routes nearest you, call Metro’s 24-hour Rider Information hotline at (206) 553-3000 or visit Metro online.

Parking is available at the Mercer Street Garage, conveniently located across the street from McCaw Hall. A covered skybridge provides easy access between level C of the garage and McCaw Hall.

Other garages and parking options are:

  • Fisher Plaza Garage, located in the KOMO Plaza on 4th Avenue N, between Broad St and John St. The entrance is at 451 John St. The quickest way to get to McCaw Hall from here is to walk across the Seattle Center campus, starting from the Space Needle. SAL offers a $5 voucher for this garage. Vouchers may be picked up at SAL’s box office or info table.
  • 5th Avenue North Garage, located at the corner of 5th Avenue and Harrison Street. This is the first garage you will encounter after exiting I-5 and turning onto Harrison Street. It is a 3-block walk to McCaw Hall from this garage.
  • Surface lots are available on either side of Mercer Street between 3rd and 1st Avenues.
  • Southwest Seattle Center garages, for those willing and able to make the short walk across the Seattle Center campus, there are garages located on 1st Avenue North between Thomas and John Streets (south of KeyArena), at the corner of Warren Avenue North and Denny Way (adjacent to the church), and on 2nd Avenue North and Denny Way (adjacent to Pacific Science Center).


All of our venues have accessible seating and listening devices available. Click here for more information about accessibility and ADA services at McCaw Hall.

Please contact us at [email protected] or 206.621.2230 x10 for more details and to let us know you’re coming so we can better accommodate your needs.