Yanyi is named the 2018 Yale Younger Poet

A self-portrait photograph by the poet Yanyi.

The Year of Blue Water,” a manuscript by the Brooklyn-based poet Yanyi, has been chosen as the winner of the 2018 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition.

As its title implies, ‘The Year of Blue Water’ reads as a record of time, a kind of daybook of observations in sentences so crystalline, spare, direct, and yet offhand, that it can be easy to miss, at first, the book’s complexity,” says Carl Phillips, the critically acclaimed poet and the judge for the competition.

It is a certain life and not its answer that is worthy of being repeated. Invitation, invocation, request,” Yanyi writes in his forthcoming debut collection. According to Phillips, “Indeed, the poems work exactly so, inviting us into the life they invoke, a life that both argues for and is an example of how identity is multifaceted: the poems’ speaker is an artist, of an apparent immigrant background, is trans, is deeply invested in friendship as a rescuing form of community. Identity, then, as not any one of these things but all of them, each marker of identity at once incidental and essential.”

Upon winning the prize, Yanyi said, “This news will change my life and it is changing my life. It has been an honor and a privilege to be recognized — to have one’s work read, understood, and valued — in the same series that brought me voices that I sorely needed as a young writer. Now has become an even more important time for me to call and write to those who have sustained and buoyed me. I feel a profound gratitude that my book may also reach someone who needs it; that it may give them permission to write, or feel, or think. I feel a profound gratitude for the conversations and community that writing can and does bring.”

Yanyi is a poet and critic. He is a 2017–2018 Asian American Writers Workshop Margins Fellow and associate editor at Foundry. He formerly served as director of technology and design at The Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, senior editor at Nat. Brut, and curatorial assistant at The Poetry Project. The recipient of a 2015 Emerging Poets Fellowship from Poets House, Yanyi’s work has recently appeared in The Margins, Memorious, and Model View Culture.

Elaborating on the themes of “The Year of Blue Water,” Philips said, “The poems suggest a quest that has involved turning to many sources for guidance: tarot, therapy, an ongoing dialogue with writers (from Audre Lorde to Raymond Carver) and with the visual artist Agnes Martin in particular; and poems especially — the making of them — as ‘a way to ask for what exists, to invite what wants to be visible.’ ‘The Year of Blue Water’ speaks to a life that feels decidedly hard-won, and worth the hardship — triumphant, ultimately: ‘I am worth the work of transformations … I do not fear how I will emerge from myself, or how many times.’ A strange, elegant, beguiling, persuasive debut.”

Yale University Press will publish “The Year of Blue Water” in April 2019. The manuscript is Phillips’s eighth selection as judge and the 113th volume in the series. His seventh selection, Duy Doan’s “We Play a Game” will be published by Yale University Press on March 20, 2018.

Awarded since 1919 by Yale University Press, the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize celebrates the most prominent new American poets by bringing the work of these artists to the attention of the larger public. Earlier winners of the prize include such talents as Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, Jack Gilbert, Jean Valentine, and Robert Hass. It is the longest-running poetry prize in the United States.

Yale University Press will also continue its partnership with The James Merrill House. Winners of the series will receive one of the five writing fellowships offered at The James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut. The fellowship provides a furnished living space and daily access to James Merrill’s apartment for a writer in search of a quiet setting to complete a project of literary or academic merit.

The following excerpt is from “The Year of Blue Water.”

I’m working on being alone today. It’s the new year. I start
with drunk dreams and then texts to Diana about carrying our
homes with us. I think about who I want to write letters to: Joe,
Katherine, Mary. It comforts me to write letters: they remind
me that there is someone listening on the other end. Likewise,
I have received writing that felt made for me. People who are
dead want to talk to me. I’m writing; I invite you to my life.

Arts & Humanities

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Alden Ferro: alden.ferro@yale.edu, 203-432-0909