John Engels grew up in South Bend, Indiana. He earned an AB in English from the University of Notre Dame, served in the US Navy for three years, attended University College, Dublin, and received an MFA from the University of Iowa in 1957. Engels published over 10 collections of poetry, among them The Homer Mitchell Place (1968), Weather-Fear: New and Selected Poems 1958–1982 (1983), Walking to Cootehill: New and Selected Poems, 1958–1992 (1992), Big Water (1995), Sinking Creek (1998), and Recounting the Seasons, Poems 1958–2005 (2005).  

Engels received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and a Guggenheim Foundation fellowship. He was a Fulbright Fellow in Yugoslavia in 1985, and was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation residency at Bellagio, Italy.

Engels was a longtime teacher at St. Michael’s College in Colchester, Vermont, where he started teaching in 1962. In addition, he and David Huddle taught a Spring Writing Workshop at the University of Vermont. An avid trombone player and fan of fly-fishing, he contributed to the book In Praise of Wild Trout (1998). He died in Burlington, Vermont, in 2007.