The 2020 Yale Series of Younger Poets Winner: Desiree C. Bailey

Photograph by Wilton Schereka

Yale University Press is pleased to announce a winner in the 2020 Yale Series of Younger Poets competition.  The judge, prize-winning and critically acclaimed poet Carl Phillips, has chosen Desiree C. Bailey’s manuscript, What Noise Against the Cane.

Series judge Carl Phillips says: “Desiree C. Bailey’s What Noise Against the Cane opens in the immediate wake of 18th-century Haitian slavery and revolution, and the poems go on to enact the psychological, very visceral quest for an understanding of the self apart from the colonization that the historically colonized are forever being reborn into. ‘I want to say I am from nowhere and everywhere. But that feels coy like I am lifting my skirt for the empire’s gaze,’ says one speaker, from the exile that always contains, within the word itself, the Yoruba word for home – what’s forever just out of reach. Bailey wrestles with how history can make of the self an exile from itself; the poems here work like shifting maps, each an attempt to make a way back to that self, and then past it – which is to say, the poems argue for hope and faith equally, despite fears that ‘I will always be/out of body, I will always fall//outside the lines,’ despite realities like the fact ‘that Trayvon [will] not be avenged.’ These are powerful poems, indeed, and they make a persuasive argument for the transformative powers of steady defiance: ‘I will not go mad. I am vessel,’ Bailey insists; ‘my hands are the scarlet ibises/soaring the salt-washed dawn/cleaving the sky open like a blade.’”

The manuscript is Phillips’ tenth selection as judge and the 115th volume in the series. Carl Phillips’ ninth selection, Jill Osier’s The Solace Is Not the Lullaby, will be published by Yale University Press on March 17, 2020.

The Year of Blue Water book image

The Year of Blue Water

2018 winner, now available for purchase


Yanyi’s arresting and straightforward poems weave experiences of immigration as a Chinese American, of racism, of mental wellness, and of gender from a queer and trans perspective.

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History of the Prize

The Yale Series of Younger Poets champions the most promising new American poets. Awarded since 1919, the Yale Younger Poets prize is the oldest annual literary award in the United States. Past winners include Muriel Rukeyser, Adrienne Rich, William Meredith, W.S. Merwin, John Ashbery, John Hollander, James Tate, and Carolyn Forché. Louise Glück was the judge of the Series from 2003-2010, and Carl Phillips is the current judge.