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Poet who infuses science in his writing wins prestigious Yale poetry award

John Liles, based in California, has been named the winner of this year’s Yale Younger Poets Award for his submitted work “Bees, and after”.
Provided by Yale University Press
John Liles, based in California, has been named the winner of this year’s Yale Younger Poets Award for his submitted work “Bees, and after”.

A poet who’s also a science writer has been named the winner of this year’s Yale Younger Poets Award.

Yale University Press says John Liles is based in California. His submitted work — “Bees, and after” — was lauded by the judge of the competition, poet Rae Armantrout, in part for his ability to bridge the gap between the arts and sciences.

“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 wrote. “John Liles has studied these phenomena like a 19th century naturalist.”

She said his portraits are “both scientifically grounded and emotionally engaged.”

“The book is dedicated to a beloved grandmother who recently died,” she said. “It seems likely that the poems about the (mammalian/human) heart arise from grief associated with her death. Some people feel that science inflected poems must be geeky and cold. This book helps prove them wrong.”

Liles earned his master of fine arts from New York University, and is the head naturalist at the Pacific Environmental Education Center, a non-profit that provides marine conservation programs for students in California.

In a statement, Liles said he was grateful for the award.

“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,” Liles said. “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.”

“Bees, and after” will be published by Yale University Press in 2025. Winners of the prize are also given a writing fellowship at the James Merrill House in Stonington, where they are provided with a furnished living space to create their work.

Established in 1919, the Yale Younger Poets Award is run by Yale University Press and is the longest running poetry award in the U.S. Previous winners include Adrienne Rich and James Agee.

Ray Hardman is Connecticut Public’s Arts and Culture Reporter. He is the host of CPTV’s Emmy-nominated original series Where Art Thou? Listeners to Connecticut Public Radio may know Ray as the local voice of Morning Edition, and later of All Things Considered.

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