Liles, author of ‘science-inflected’ poems, wins Yale Younger Poets award

John Liles has been named winner of the 2024 Yale Younger Poets award, a competition that aims to bring greater attention to America’s promising new poets.
John Liles

John Liles

John Liles, a poet and science writer whose “dense, sonically gorgeous studies” of the natural world, and of the human heart, have been described as both “scientifically grounded and emotionally engaged,” has been named winner of the 2024 Yale Younger Poets award, a prestigious competition that aims to bring greater public attention to America’s most promising new poets.

Liles’s winning manuscript, “Bees, and after,” which was selected by the acclaimed poet Rae Armantrout, will be published by Yale University Press in April 2025.

Presented by Yale Press since 1919, the Yale Series of Younger Poets prize is America’s longest-running poetry award. This year’s prize is the fourth selected by Armantrout since she become judge of the award competition.

According to Yale University Press, Liles’s work is predicated on academic and archival research — “a writing process that necessitates achieving an organic/animal understanding of the present surviving phenomenon.”

Aiming to establish a new interdisciplinary space between the arts and sciences, Liles holds to a self-established canon where the scientific must remain true.”

Liles is a graduate of the MFA program at New York University. His chapbook, “Following the dog down,” received the Omnidawn Chapbook Prize in 2017. He lives in Fort Bragg, California, where he writes and works as the head naturalist at the Pacific Environmental Education Center, a nonprofit organization that provides standards-based, residential marine environmental education programs to schools throughout northern California.

The poems in ‘Bees, and after’ are dense, sonically gorgeous studies of various natural things and creatures, including light, bees, minerals, shellfish and crabs, insects, and the workings (and failures) of the heart,” Armantrout said. “John Liles has studied these phenomena like a 19th century naturalist. His portraits are both scientifically grounded and emotionally engaged. This writing resonates with an awareness of the threats these creatures (such as bees and shellfish) face in our changing climate. The poems are tender; they could even be seen as elegies.”

Some people feel that science-inflected poems must be geeky and cold,” Armantrout added. “This book helps prove them wrong.”

Of being named the Yale Younger Poets award winner, Liles said his “gratitude is beyond measure.”

This is the dream — to be heard, to have my voice announced alongside a history of poets I so admire,” he said. “In this moment, I am so thankful to everyone I've ever workshopped with, every friend, acquaintance, and educator who took the time to help me along the way.

I came into writing as a way to reconcile having lived, living still. It's not easy being here; I have not always wanted to stay. As the work of other writers has brought a light into my life, so too do I hope my words will find someone who needs them.”

Previous winners of the Yale Younger Poets award include such noted poets as Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, and Robert Haas. Honorees also receive a writing fellowship offered at the James Merrill House in Stonington, Connecticut. The fellowship provides a furnished living space and daily access to the late poet James Merrill’s apartment, allowing the writers a quiet setting to complete projects of literary or academic merit.

On March 5, Yale University Press will publish “Ward Toward,” a manuscript by Cindy Juyoung Ok, recipient of the 2023 Yale Younger Poets award.

The publication of Liles’ manuscript will be the 119th volume in the series.

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