Prayer Book of the Anxious

(Elixir P, 2016)

Winner of the 15th Annual Elixir Press Poetry Awards Judge’s Prize

Available from Small Press Distribution and

“Both bawdy and reverent, tender and frustrated, Yu’s poems, which are often humorously titled, maintain a curiosity that is almost rapturous—a questioning always followed by the infectious satisfaction of solving the puzzle. … With a perceptiveness and poise that serve as a curative balm, Yu brilliantly tackles the notion of healing in a society that can make its most aware citizens ill.”

Publishers Weekly starred review 


“Through a blend of humor and empathy for her characters, Yu creates a space that is at once edgy, a bit unsettling, and yet offers the possibility of forgiveness and second chances”

Los Angeles Review

“Yu’s Prayer Book of the Anxious unites us since we all experience anxiety and worries and we all aim toward our dreams and longings. It is this vulnerability that makes us human; thus, even Yu’s speakers that lie end up representing truth—human truth.”


“Poetry’s use as both an investigative and obscurant tool is of central concern in this book, and Yu challenges us, with a sense of humor always alert to unease, to admit to both the things we see and those we look away from.”

Salamander Magazine 

“What better way to understand relationships than by the uncanny sleight of hand that combines history, physicality, and solace for grief?”

32 Poems

“What Yu accomplishes in Prayer Book of the Anxious is a tense, forward-leaning expectancy, a refusal to be buried in chaos but rather to understand the world by allowing its randomness and its damages to show through unapologetically.”

Breakwater Review 

“In Prayer Book of the Anxious, Josephine Yu explores the tenacity of the human spirit, in all its quirkiness and fallibility. Her poems reveal holiness in paying attention to the earthly and human rather than the heavenly and angelic. These poems revel in human empathy and desire for community. They celebrate inclusivity as they reside in the space between the self and the other.”

Tupelo Quarterly 

“In Josephine Yu’s debut collection you’ll find weeping and gnashing of teeth, grief and profound loneliness, in words that ‘throb on the page like nerves.’ There’s also a belief in transformation, and in moments that can only be called grace: the upwelling tenderness for strangers, getting stoned behind the school library, embracing a lover from behind as he washes the dishes. For Yu, ‘the god of despair’ is ‘the father of the god of attention,’ and these poems are marvelously attentive to the shifting tides in the self as it performs its daily offices of sorrow and love.”

—Kim Addonizio, author of Tell Me and The Poet’s Companion

“Yu’s poems show brilliant range; they are startling and stirring, comedic and then breathtakingly brutal. This is one transcendent collection!”

—Julianna Baggott, author of Pure and The Seventh Book of Wonders

“This beautiful collection begins with a poem about lying, to which one says, ‘Yippee!’ A poet’s lies beat today’s headlines hollow, and Josephine Yu has assembled here a cast of winsome, slightly off-center characters to help with all that prevarication: a lepidopterist who lives alone, a fortune teller who knows she’ll never marry, saints and dreamers of every kind. So many poetry collections are monotone—not this one. A hundred voices bubble out of these pages, each one beseeching you to listen. You’d be crazy not to.”

—David Kirby, author of The House on Boulevard St. and Get Up, Please

“These are smart, savvy poems, but they are also humane in the best sense of that word: interested in the human and compassionate to all beings. Josephine Yu asks the right questions—‘What animal am I?’ and ‘Ready to go home?’—and the answers she gives are always those of an anxiety-born attention, not just to the self but to all of humanity.”

—Sarah Kennedy, Judge of the 15th Annual Elixir Press Poetry Awards

“Josephine Yu’s poems are alternately sprightly and grave, saucy and sincere. You never know what you might find: a Catholic school girl blouse next to the ‘soft snipping sounds’ coming from a biology class dissecting frogs and fetal pigs. Galileo and Kepler among chewed pens, dinner trays, and snow globes. Her energetic writing holds all of these disparate elements, figures, and images together. The voice is strong and sure, stronger for its moments of self-doubt, self-criticism, and self-consciousness. We believe this speaker: her poignant and hilarious wit is finally deeply touching.”

—John Skoyles, Judge of Ploughshares 2013 Emerging Writers Contest