Lyric Essentials: Subhaga Crystal Bacon Reads Ely Shipley

Welcome back to Lyric Essentials, where we invite authors to share the work of their favorite poets. This month, Subhaga Crystal Bacon joins us to discuss the work of Ely Shipley, blending lyric with narrative, and the political power of poetry. As always, we hope you enjoy as much as we did.

Ryleigh Wann: Why did you choose to read these poems specifically?

Subhaga Crystal Bacon: “Boy with Flowers” is such a poignant story of early recognition of one’s gendered self apart or aside from one’s birth sex and family expectations around that. It felt very—literally—familiar to me. The same is true of his poem “Six, which illustrates the way external forces—teachers, “the recess lady,” suppress what in us must find release. “Night around Me” leaps forward into young adulthood, navigating the secret pleasures of the queer night. It’s about queer desire, and it’s so deeply felt. 

RW: How has Ely Shipley’s writing inspired your own?

SCB: Writing my new collection, Transitory, I was delving into the life stories of trans people murdered in 2020, and it touched on my own experiences with homophobia, threats of violence, and the ways our families and society shape how we experience ourselves. Eli’s work spoke to the wounded parts of me that are finding voice and healing through writing from my own gender queerness.

Subhaga Crystal Bacon reads “Boy with Flowers” by Ely Shipley

RW: When was the first time you read Shipley’s work? Why did it stand out to you then?

SCB: I first read Shipley’s work in the wonderful and essential anthology, Troubling the Line. There are so many beautiful and important voices in that collection, torrin a. greathouse, Eileen Myles, CA Conrad. Eli’s work stood out to me because of its lyricism, his way of telling a story through image and metaphor. It’s to me a perfect blending of lyric and narrative.

Subhaga Crystal Bacon reads “Night Around Me” by Ely Shipley

RW: Who else have you been reading lately and who has been inspiring you in your craft? 

SCB: I read a LOT. Diane Seuss, Maggie Smith, Paisley Rekdal, Jennifer Martelli, Eduardo C. Corral, K Iver, Paul Tran, Eugenia Leigh. I return again and again to Plath, Hopkins, Stafford. I find reading to be very generative. I think most poets would say the same thing. If you’re having a block, just read. Seuss’s frank: sonnets has really shaped me. When I draft a poem, it’s often a ramble to try to get down the sound and the feeling. I often try to shape it into the American Sonnett—seventeen syllables per line. Seuss says in frank “the sonnet, like poverty, teaches you what you can do/without.” Hitting those syllabics requires rethinking wording and phrasing, and then sometimes after I get it into the form, I undo it and see if a different form will suit. It’s a process of shaping, though I do recently have a lot of new sonnets! Doing the Sealey Challenge every August is a great way for me to expose myself to poets whose work is new to me, and I often find myself turning back to the blank page to digest what I’ve read and see what it resonates with inside me that wants to come out. Poetry inspires poetry.

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Ely Shipley is the author of Some Animal (Nightboat Books), winner of the Publishing Triangle’s Trans and Gender Variant Literature Award and finalist for a Lambda Literary Award; Boy with Flowers, winner of the Barrow Street Press book prize judged by Carl Phillips, the Thom Gunn Award, and finalist for a Lambda Literary Award; and On Beards: A Memoir of Passing, a letterpress chapbook from speCt! Books. His poems and cross-genre work also appear in the Western Humanities Review, Prairie Schooner, Crazyhorse, Interim, Greensboro Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Witness, Diagram, Gulf Coast, Fugue, Third Coast, and elsewhere.

Puchase Some Animal.

Subhaga Crystal Bacon (she/they) is a Queer poet living in rural northcentral Washington on unceded Methow land. She is the author of four collections of poetry. Her latest book, Transitory is the recipient of the Isabella Gardner Award for Poetry, from BOA Editions, and was listed in the Library Journal’s list of Books to Read in 2023. She’s the author of Surrender of Water in Hidden Places, 2023, winner of the Red Flag Poetry Chapbook Prize, Blue Hunger, Methow Press, 2020, and Elegy with a Glass of Whiskey, winner of the A. Poulin New Poetry America Prize, BOA Editions, 2004.  A Pushcart and Best of the Net nominee, she’s a teaching artist working in schools and libraries with youth and adults, as well as private students. Her work appears in a variety of print and online journals including the Bellevue Literary ReviewDiode Poetry Journal, Indianapolis ReviewRise Up ReviewGhost City Review, and others. 

Pre-order Transitory.

Ryleigh Wann (she/her) hails from Michigan and currently lives in Brooklyn, NY. She earned an MFA from UNC Wilmington where she taught poetry and served as the comics editor for Ecotone. Her writing can be found in The McNeese ReviewLongleaf ReviewThe Shore, and elsewhere. You can visit her website at


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