John Yau

Poet, art critic, and curator John Yau has published over 50 books of poetry, fiction, and art criticism. Born in Lynn, Massachusetts in 1950 to Chinese emigrants, Yau attended Bard College and earned an MFA from Brooklyn College in 1978. His first book of poetry, Crossing Canal Street, was published in 1976. Since then, he has won acclaim for his poetry’s attentiveness to visual culture and linguistic surface. In poems that frequently pun, trope, and play with the English language, Yau offers complicated, sometimes competing versions of the legacy of his dual heritages—as Chinese, American, poet, and artist. A contributor for Contemporary Poets wrote: “Yau’s poems [are] often as much a product of his visual sense of the world, as his awareness of his double heritage from both Oriental and Occidental cultures.” Yau’s many collections of poetry include Corpse and Mirror (1983), selected by John Ashbery for the National Poetry Series, Edificio Sayonara (1992), Forbidden Entries (1996), Borrowed Love Poems (2002), Ing Grish (2005), Paradiso Diaspora (2006), Exhibits (2010), and Further Adventures in Monochrome (2012). Yau’s work frequently explores, and exploits, the boundaries between poetry and prose, and his collections of stories and prose poetry include Hawaiian Cowboys (1994), My Symptoms (1998), and Forbidden Entries (1996).

A noted art critic and curator, Yau has also published many works of art criticism and artists’ books. Reviewing Yau’s The United States of Jasper Johns (1996) a Publishers Weekly writer commented: “If you already have a weighty, profusely illustrated book on artist Jasper Johns but are still a little bemused, this is the book to buy.” Yau covers the career of the controversial neo-Dadaist painter, from his 1955 Flag to the 1993 After Holbein, deriving much of his text from interviews conducted with the reclusive Johns over a period of fifteen years. “In graceful, accessible prose,” the Publishers Weekly reviewer noted, “Yau deciphers the many art-historical sources within Johns’s art …[and] is capable of crafting the single phrase, such as ‘visual echo,’ that describes the activity within Johns’s work.” In addition to Johns, who he also wrote about in A Thing Among Things: The Art of Jasper Johns (2008), Yau has written on artists such as Andy Warhol, Joe Coleman, James Castle, and Kay Walkingstick. He has also collaborated with artists Archie Rand, Thomas Nozkowski, and Leiko Ikemura in poetry and art books like Hundred More Jokes from the Book of the Dead (2001), Ing Grish (2005), and Andalusia (2006). Calling Yau a “genius,” Robert Creeley described Ing Grish as a “brilliant train of wildly divergent thought.”

Yau has received many honors and awards for his work including a New York Foundation for the Arts Award, the Jerome Shestack Award, and the Lavan Award from the Academy of American Poets. He has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram-Merrill Foundation, and the Guggenheim Foundation, and was named a Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters by France. Yau has taught at many institutions, including Pratt, the Maryland Institute College of Art and School of Visual Arts, Brown University, and the University of California-Berkeley. Since 2004 he has been the Arts editor of the Brooklyn Rail. He teaches at the Mason Gross School of the Arts and Rutgers University, and lives in New York City.



  • Crossing Canal Street, Bellevue Press (Binghamton, NY), 1976.
  • The Reading of an Ever-Changing Tale, Nobodaddy Press (Clinton, NY), 1977.
  • Sometimes, Sheep Meadow Press (New York), 1979.
  • The Sleepless Night of Eugene Delacroix, Release Press (New York), 1980.
  • Notarikon, Jordan Davies (New York), 1981.
  • Broken Off by the Music, Burning Deck (Providence, RI), 1981.
  • Corpse and Mirror, Holt Rinehart (New York), 1983.
  • Radiant Silhouette: New and Selected Work, 1974-1988, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1989.
  • Dragon's Blood, Collectif Generacion (Colombes, France), 1989.
  • Big City Primer: Reading New York at the End of the Twentieth Century, Timken (New York), 1991.
  • Edificio Sayonara, Black Sparrow Press, 1992.
  • Postcards from Trakl, ULAE (New York), 1994.
  • Hawaiian Cowboys, Black Sparrow Press, 1994.
  • Berlin Diptychon, Timken, 1995.
  • Forbidden Entries, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 1996.
  • My Symptoms, Black Sparrow Press, 1998.
  • Borrowed Love Poems, Penguin Poets (New York, NY), 2002.
  • Paradiso Diaspora, Penguin Poets (New York, NY), 2006.
  • Exhibits, Letter Machine Editions (Denver, CO), 2010.
  • Further Adventures in Monochrome, Copper Canyon Press (Port Townsend, WA), 2012.
  • Bijoux in the Dark, Letter Machine Editions, 2018.



  • (Editor with David Kermani) Fairfield Porter: The Collected Poems with Selected Drawings, Tibor de Nagy (New York), 1985.
  • In the Realm of Appearances: The Art of Andy Warhol, Ecco Press (Hopewell, NJ), 1993.
  • A. R. Penck, Abrams (New York), 1993.
  • Hawaiian Cowboys (novel), Black Sparrow Press, 1994.
  • Chuck Close: Recent Paintings (essay), PaceWildenstein (New York City), 1995.
  • The United States of Jasper Johns: An Essay, Zoland Books (Cambridge, MA), 1996.
  • (Editor) In Pursuit of the Invisible: Selections from the Collection of Janice and Mickey Cartin: An Exhibition at the Loomis Chaffee School, Hard Press (West Stockbridge, MA), 1996.
  • (Author of essay), Joe Coleman Original Sin: The Visionary Art of Joe Coleman, edited and designed by Katharine Gates, HECK Editions (New York, NY), 1997.
  • (Editor and author of introduction) Fetish: An Anthology, Four Walls Eight Windows (New York City), 1998.
  • (Author of essay) Anthony Sorce, Four Decades, exhibition curated by Stanley I. Grand, Sordoni Art Gallery, Wilkes University (Wilkes-Barre, PA), 1998.
  • (Author of essay), Jorge Tacla Jorge Tacla: informacion, restringida, 29 de abril al 5 de junio de 1999, A.M.S. Marlborough (Santiago de Chile), 1999.
  • Randy Hayes, the World Reveiled, University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA), 1999.
  • (Author of essay), James Castle, James Castle: The Common Place, Knoedler & Co. (New York, NY), 2000.
  • (Author of essay), Pat Steir, Dazzling water, Dazzling Light, University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA), 2000.
  • (Author of essay), David Miller, David Miller: A Retrospective, Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery, Skidmore College (Saratoga Springs, NY), 2001.
  • (With Archie Rand) Hundred More Jokes from the Book of the Dead, Meritage Press (St. Helena, CA), 2001.
  • My Heart is That Eternal, Rose Tattoo, Black Sparrow Press (Santa Rosa, CA), 2001.
  • (With Wystan Curnow) Max Gimblett, Craig Potton Publishers (Auckland, New Zealand), 2002.
  • (Author of Essay) Robert Gordon, Deborah Butterfield, introduction by Jane Smiley, poems by Vicki Hearne, Harry N. Abrams (New York, NY), 2003.
  • (Author of introduction) Kay WalkingStick, Kay WalkingStick: Mythic Dances, Paintings from Four Decades, essay by Stanley I. Grand, Southeast Missouri Regional Museum (Cape Girardeau, MO), 2004.
  • (With Thomas Nozkowski) Ing Grish, Saturnalia Press (Ardmore, PA), 2005.
  • (With Leiko Ikemura) Andalusia, with Leiko Ikemura, Weidle Verlang (Bonn, Germany), 2006.
  • A Thing Among Things: The Art of Jasper Johns, D.A.P./Distributed Art Publishers, 2008.
  • The Wild Children of William Blake, Autonomedia, 2017.
  • Thomas Nozkowski, Lund Humprhies (London, England), 2017.

Contributor of essays to Original Sin: The Visionary Art of Joe Coleman, edited by Katharine Gates, HECK Editions, 1997; and Anthony Source, Four Decades, Sodoni Art Gallery, 1998.

Further Readings


  • Contemporary Poets, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1996.


  • Publishers Weekly, January 16, 1995, p. 452; April 27, 1997, p. 80; July 20, 1998, p. 207; October 12, 1998, p. 60.
  • Review of Contemporary Fiction, spring, 1996, p. 171; fall, 1999, p. 173.