Ellyn Maybe: poet and cinephile
Ellyn Maybe is a poet, an enigma, the "love child of Jack Kerouac and Gracie Allen," and an integral part of the L.A. poetry scene. She's a woman of many accomplishments: named one of 10 poets to watch for in Writer's Digest Magazine (2000); the winner of the Poetry in the Windows contest (1999, 2003); a recipient of the Benjamin A. Gilman International Scholarship, Academic Year (2003-2004).
She is the author of six collections of poetry, and her work has appeared in several anthologies, including So Luminous the Wildflowers (Tebot Bach 2003), and The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry (Thunder's Mouth Press 1999).
Recently, Ellyn returned from a two-year stay in Prague where she attended film school. She has released a new volume of poetry, Praha and the Poet (self-published 2006), which addresses the question, "What happens when a poet and a film school collide?"
ML: For the blissfully ignorant, can you share a few details about yourself, and how you came to be known as "Ellyn Maybe?" I believe there is a story behind that moniker of yours.
EM: My name came as I was really shy and wasn't so sure I would ever get to the stage of reading in public and when I started to sign up I wrote ellyn (maybe I'll read) in case by the time my name was called I had changed my mind. So it came serendipitously.
ML: What made you decide to attend film school in Prague?
EM: I had been getting more and more interested in film and also had heard so many wonderful things about Prague and in my research I found that the National Film School had a one-year course taught in English so that was very fortuitous on many levels.
ML: When did you start writing poetry for Praha and the Poet and can you share the details of its inception?
EM: I had gotten a scholarship from the U.S. Dept. of Education called The Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship that enables low income students to study abroad. My follow-on project was that I would write a book comprised of poems written there. I was grateful it was an inspiring experience.
ML: My favorite piece in Praha and the Poet is "Ellyn Maybe's Dream," because it's kooky, brilliant, freakishly and lyrically gorgeous - but what is your favorite poem from Praha and the Poet, and why?
EM: I really can't say what my favorite poem is from there or any particular book as they all conveyed my emotional state and needed me to write them so I'm too close to say but there do tend to be poems I gravitate to performing more and since this book is brand new it's too early to say.
ML: What is the poetry scene like in Prague?
EM: There are a couple of venues that have English language reading series. One closed and another started so there is a regular thing twice a month. Usually open mic with a feature.
ML: As a poet, what did you find the most fascinating about going to live in the Czech Republic for two years? How did people treat you, as a person and a poet, in contrast your experiences in Los Angeles?
EM: I was treated pretty much the same in both places. I am a fairly unconventional looking person so one can run into tactless people anywhere at any time unfortunately, but overall my experience was positive.
ML: As an American poet living abroad, how did your perspective change in the following ways: culturally, politcally, personally?
EM: I really enjoyed studying with and meeting people from all over the world and that was a really nice aspect of studying abroad. I really liked learning a lot about the Czech culture and walking on different streets, seeing that amazing architecture. I think being in a different place and having a day-to-day life there just offers a little window. Whenever I read about anything Czech-related or see Prague mentioned I get really psyched, I identify in some way.
ML: Your prose poem "van Gogh" - a brilliantly imagined dialogue between yourself and the Expressionist painter Vincent van Gogh caught me by surprise, especially the revelation of van Gogh as your "guardian artist." What inspired you to write this piece, and can you share some of the details that went into creating it?
EM: I feel the van Gogh and Joan of Arc poems are companion pieces. A
number of things had me down including the presidential election, an
attempted break in of my flat, hitting my head on my wardrobe, in
general a rough time and in the midst of all this I was fortunate
enough to have "visits" by these insightful icons. I had been reading
van Gogh's letters and have always found them very resonant. I had
also been to the van Gogh Museum the summer before writing the piece
but the writing process is very mysterious and you never know what's
going to happen.
ML: Your language is very cinematic: One woman is talking to herself. She turnes herself out. She eats a sandwich full of bitterness and tears. She is dancing by herself. She is painting the town red.
She is almost a canvas. She is a blue period. - "Room Part One." Do you feel that the time you spent at FAMU influenced your poetic vision, and if so, how?
EM: I think being at a film school and writing poetry in screenplay class probably made for some cinematic images but I don't really know how I write. It's always been a very natural process, the poem comes when it's ready. Place and emotional landcsape played a large part in the book and I felt very at home in the school.
ML: What was the biggest culture shock you experienced after coming back to the States?
EM: The biggest cultural shock coming home was how expensive groceries are in America.
ML: Given the opportunity to spend another year in Prague, or here in Los Angeles, which one would you choose, and why?
EM: That's hard to say, it would be great to spend a little bit of time in both places. The next place I really want to get to know is Italy.
ML: Now that you are back in Los Angeles, and armed with Praha and the Poet, what are your future plans? As a filmmaker? As a poet?
EM: I am planning some touring. One of the big differences between poetry and film is poetry can be done completely alone and film is much more collaborative. In a workshop an interactive film was made from my poem, "Being An Artist." People stepped up and wanted to work with me so I'd be open to doing more film stuff. With poetry I know I can do that alone, that is a very empowering feeling. As my mom always likes to tell me, you never know what's around the corner.