Award-winning collection focused on real people
BOA Editions recently announced that Twisp resident Subhaga Crystal Bacon was awarded the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award for her collection “Transitory,” to be released in 2023.
Bacon said that in the publishing world, most poetry books are published by small press operations, “until or unless you get picked up by a big publisher.” BOA Editions is a “small press with a really good track record,” she said.
Publishing companies have open reading periods when they’re accepting manuscripts, Bacon said, so she sent out her collection “Transitory.” Typically Bacon and other authors use the platform Submittable to share manuscripts, but “this one you had to send by snail mail — including sending a self-addressed stamped envelope for rejections!” Bacon said.
“I went to the mailbox every day for a while,” she said, “but there was nothing. The self-addressed rejection letter that I was expecting never came. I kept wondering, ‘Did it fall out of the mailbox? Did it get delivered to someone else by mistake?’”
Then one day Bacon got an email saying that the awards board had selected “Transitory” as the Isabella Gardner Poetry Award recipient. “It’s hard to believe the poems are that good,” she said. “As a poet, the bulk of what you submit gets rejected, so you get used to that.”
“Transitory” is not an easy book — not to write, not to read, nor to publish, Bacon said. “The poems are about real people, so even though it’s all information widely available on the internet, the legal team at BOA had to review the manuscript with special scrutiny.”
Unlike with many writing contests, in which submissions must be previously unpublished material, poetry collections are typically comprised of at least a certain percentage of poems already in print. “The publishers want to show that the poems are vetted,” Bacon said. “It’s very difficult to get a poetry collection published if you’re an unpublished poet.”
Bacon said she is “still getting [her] head around winning the award.” She added, “all this recognition is trying on my nervous system!”
Bacon is very close to the poems in “Transitory.” Although she did not know any of the victims of the transphobic murders she references, she writes about them as if they were friends, nieces and nephews, the kid next door. Of Johanna Metzger, age 25, murdered in Baltimore on April 11, Bacon addressed the poem to the victim’s mother, Christine.
“You say that Johanna was not killed for who she was./For you, Johanna never existed, only your son, Joe. It’s his image/on your profile, and funeral pictures where he, your son, Joe/his hair cut short, wears a black suit in his coffin. You say/you’ll bury his ashes with you; want to name a star for him.”
At the end of the poem Bacon suggests, “Maybe it’s time, Christine, to untangle her identity from your own.”
Some of the victims of transphobic murders Bacon writes about were teenagers when they were shot. As a middle-aged woman, Bacon was raised before gender and sexual identities were accepted as concepts with contemporary relevance. “I grew up before all this,” she said.
As a consequence, Bacon finds her work with youth to be particularly rewarding. She references a poetry workshop she taught last spring with Methow Valley sixth-graders, through Methow Arts’ Artist-in-Residence program.
“When I was their age, I didn’t even know that a poet was something you could be when you grew up,” she said. “Working with those kids — they really flipped my lid. I learned so much from them. Several of them are non-binary. They could envision themselves being writers. They took it quite seriously; they wrote about deeply personal experiences.”
“It’s important to make your art,” Bacon added, as much a reinforcement of her own pursuits as an encouragement to youth to speak their truths through creative expression.
Read more of Bacon’s work at www.subhagacrystalbacon.com.