Collection with ‘warnings’ wins Yale Younger Poets Award

Yale alumnus Mary-Alice Daniel 2008 decided she wanted to 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, the American poetry prize the oldest.

Nearly two decades later, she herself won this prestigious honor. His manuscript, “Mass for Shut-Ins,” was chosen as the winner of the 2022 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition by renowned poet Rae Armantrout.

Awarded since 1919 by Yale University Press, the Yale Series of Younger Poets celebrates America’s most prominent new poets by bringing their work to the attention of the general public. Yale Press will publish “Mass for Shut-Ins” in April 2023.

This book should come with a disclaimer – and it does, with three in fact,” Armantrout said as he announced Daniel’s manuscript as the winner. “The first section opens with the generic caution symbol; the second with the radioactivity warning sign; the third with the biohazard symbol. Is “Mass for Shut-Ins” so scary? Almost – and only partly because it explores topics such as serial killers, the plague, slavery and the nature of hell. Against humans creating hell on earth, Daniel draws inspiration from the animist, Islamic and syncretic Christian traditions of his native Nigeria to unleash powerful incantations, rituals and spells, electric like St. Elmo’s fire. It’s ‘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 his victory, Daniel said: “A half-life ago, when I was 17, I sat in an auditorium and heard poems that made me want to write poems. Since this first reading of Yale Younger Poets, I have turned to this series to amaze me, to continue to show me what a first book can be. I finished my manuscript in its crudest form about 10 years ago, and for 10 years it was rejected. As I obsessively refined my words, I wondered if they mattered if they didn’t reach anyone. Most young writers know this story; many have lived through their own decade of discouragement. With deep gratitude – and deep debt – to my mentors and peers, I hope my work will be a contribution to a community and its craft.

Born near the Niger-Nigeria border, Daniel grew up in England and Tennessee. After attending Yale, she earned an MFA from the Helen Zell Writers Program at the University of Michigan. She holds a doctorate. in English Literature and Creative Writing from the University of Southern California. His 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 prose book, “A Coastline Is an Immeasurable Thing: A Memoir”, is due out from Ecco/HarperCollins in November 2022.

An African American, 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 Yale Younger Poets Prize judge from 1977 to 1982. Yale Younger Prize Winners The Poets Series receive one of five writing scholarships offered at home. The fellowship provides furnished living space and daily access to Merrill’s apartment for a writer seeking a quiet setting to complete a literary or academic project.

Past winners of the Yale Series of Younger Poets award are Adrienne Rich, John Ashbery, and Robert Haas. This month, Yale Press published “Mothman Apologia,” the winning manuscript of last year’s winner, Robert Wood Lynn.

An excerpt from Daniel’s poem “Inquiry into the Location and Nature of Hell” follows.

Investigation of the location and nature of Hell

We all know what we think of vultures.
We didn’t know they had a shadow life:
We are deprived of one or more faculties.

Waiting for the long-promised apparition
of men with crane necks and swan necks:
War, our only mode of home and hearth.

How we should live in the middle stage
of ritual: Registry of fussy unicorns
In the rare class of Things Never to Kill.

Of course, when it comes to animals…
we always make mistakes. In the colors of the Bible
the butterfly lays neatly on white

floors, no obvious trauma, and simply dies.
For the 352 active national emergencies,
send help. Preface of long fall and fire:

such a gray sky

even the stupid child knows it’s going to rain.
We hum, play, break into cliques.
Today is a day that could go either way…

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