A collection that comes with ‘warnings’ wins Yale Younger Poets Prize
Yale alumna Mary-Alice Daniel ’08 decided she wanted be a poet at the age of 17 while listening to a reading of poems by a winner of the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize, America’s longest-running poetry award.
Nearly two decades later, she has won that prestigious honor herself. Her manuscript, “Mass for Shut-Ins,” was chosen winner of the 2022 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition by acclaimed poet Rae Armantrout.
Awarded since 1919 by Yale University Press, the Yale Series of Younger Poets celebrates the most prominent new American poets by bringing their work to the attention of the larger public. Yale Press will publish “Mass for Shut-Ins” in April 2023.
“This book should come with a warning — and it does, with three in fact,” said Armantrout in announcing Daniel’s manuscript as the winner. “The first section opens with the generic symbol for caution; the second with the warning sign for radioactivity; the third with the biohazard symbol. Is ‘Mass for Shut-Ins’ this scary? Almost — and only partly because it explores such topics as serial killers, plague, slavery, and the nature of hell. Against humans creating hell on earth, Daniel draws on animistic, Islamic, and syncretic Christian traditions from her native Nigeria to unleash potent incantations, rituals, and spells, electric as St. Elmo’s fire. This is ‘Flowers of Evil’ for the 21st century. Buckle up.” [“The Flowers of Evil” is a collection of poetry by Charles Baudelaire published in 1857.]
Of her win, Daniel said: “Half a lifetime ago, when I was 17, I sat in an auditorium and heard poems that made me need to write poems. Ever since that first Yale Younger Poets reading, I’ve looked to this series to astonish me, to keep showing me what a first book can be. I finished my manuscript in its roughest form about 10 years ago, and for 10 years it met with rejection. As I honed my words obsessively, I asked myself if they mattered if they weren’t reaching anyone. Most young writers know this story; many have lived their own decade of discouragement. With deep gratitude — and in deep debt — to my mentors and peers, I hope my work will be a contribution to a community and its craft.”
Born near the border between Niger and Nigeria, Daniel was raised in England and Tennessee. After attending Yale, she received an M.F.A. from the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan. She holds a Ph.D. in English literature and creative writing from the University of Southern California. Her poems have appeared in The American Poetry Review, New England Review, Prairie Schooner, Indiana Review, The Iowa Review, and several anthologies, including “Best New Poets.” Her first book of prose, “A Coastline Is an Immeasurable Thing: A Memoir,” is forthcoming from Ecco/HarperCollins in November 2022.
An American African, Daniel’s tribe is Hausa-Fulani. She now lives in Los Angeles.
Yale University Press continues its partnership with The James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut, the home of the late Bollingen- and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who served as a judge of the Yale Younger Poets Prize from 1977 to 1982. Winners of the Yale Younger Poets series receive one of the five writing fellowships offered at the house. The fellowship provides a furnished living space and daily access to Merrill’s apartment for a writer in search of a quiet setting to complete a literary or academic project.
Past winners of the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize include Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, and Robert Haas. This month, the Yale Press published “Mothman Apologia,” the winning manuscript by last year’s winner, Robert Wood Lynn.
An excerpt from Daniel’s poem “Enquiry into the Location & Nature of Hell” follows.
Enquiry into the Location & Nature of Hell
We all know what we think of Vultures.
We did not know they have shadow life:
We are deprived of 1 or many faculties.
Awaiting the long-promised appearance
of crane-necked and goose-necked men:
War, our only mode of house and home.
How we have to live in the middle stage
of ritual: Meddlesome unicorns register
In the rare class of Things Never to Kill.
Of course, when it comes to animals—
always mistakes are made. Bible-colored
butterfly sets itself down clean on white
floors, no evident trauma, and just dies.
For the 352 active national emergencies,
send help. Prefaced by long fall and fire:
a sky so grey
even the stupid child know it will rain.
We hum, gamble, break off into cliques.
Today is a day that could go either way…