Tell us about your background.
As an incredibly shy kid growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, I expressed myself through writing early in life. I scribbled stories about going to California and meeting Barry Manilow, I never imagined reading this work aloud. I mean, I was too timid to order in restaurants or even to ask where the bathroom was. My shyness, in part, stemmed from having a hyper-critical father (luckily my mother was loving and supportive), a proverbial dysfunctional family in general, and from enduring classmates’ criticism that I was “an unusual-looking girl.”
I began signing up at open mics as ellyn (maybe I’ll read), just in case I was too bashful to follow through. That’s how I got my moniker.
I then began to locate kindred spirits through spoken word poetry, eccentric people equally passionate about their art and invested in developing artistic community. These people invited me to perform in venues like Bebop Records in Reseda, CA. (a record store, performance space, and art gallery where Henry Rollins, Victoria Williams and Exene Cervenka among others performed), and North Hollywood’s Iguana Café- a wonderful bookstore and performance area. These were places where people like me found a home away from home, and created many an artistically magical late night.
My interest in film led me to Prague where I went to film school for two years at FAMU, the State Film School from 2003-2005. These years were some of the most prolific writing periods in my life. I wrote some poems about Prague itself, and how its architecture connected me to a different era, but much of that work was about the newly fertile emotional landscape I was nurturing abroad, away from my past. One of my poems Being An Artist was turned into an interactive film in a workshop and this collaboration nurtured my understanding about the connection between poetry and film- indeed between all art forms.
Poetry has blessed me with the sacred opportunity to meet the kinds of people I wish I’d met in high school – the outcasts, misfits, and shy kids who would transform into creative swans. Perhaps we needed to be spread around a little so we could spiritually reunite in our coffee houses and used bookstore performance venues at a later time, singing songs for an alma mater we all knew by heart and wearing the school uniform like vowels. It strikes me that I am profoundly lucky to be an artist, and thus able to find these rare places, cropping up in nooks and crannies around the world.
It’s like a song that plays through a noisy room and you always sense the rhythm, like the way people remember how to play chopsticks on a piano decades after one has last played it. Some things are just in us. It’s like a life preserver worn on the inside. We preserve life, we archive the moments.
Poet has become a lifetime badge, an explorer badge if you will. I have found that some people are afraid of artists and our abundant sense of wonder. We seem like children to some. Perhaps that’s why it’s so hard to make a living. They treat us like kids on a lark, as hobbyists. Poets are on the low end of the marginalized arts, sitting between basket weavers and folk singers. Still, on my tax form, I write poet and, while poetry has a high cost and lousy pay, it is as interchangeable for me as claiming “human.” It’s got a little bit of the magician’s cape mixed with the historian’s monocle, an artist’s easel and a cinematographer’s breath.
There are always ebbs and flows. I don’t get up each day and write a poem, but each day I am ready for one to arrive. I don’t know where in the world poetry will take me. I guess we’re all a little like lighthouses in a turbulent world trying to keep the boats from capsizing amidst the stormy seas. Life and its serendipities certainly rock. I do know that it will lead me down more provocative roads, where I’ll be sure to leave some syllables behind- like verbal choreography. We all leave something. Then we travel some more.
What have you been working on lately?
Working on finishing an album called Skywriting with Glitter with my duo partner Robbie Fitzsimmons. We are called ellyn & robbie. We just had an album release party at Beyond Baroque. Here’s more about us.
Ellyn Maybe’s powerful spoken word performances of her own touching poetry coupled with the angelic voice and poignant piano compositions by Robbie Fitzsimmons unite the two venerable art forms together to create new art on Skywriting with Glitter, the debut LP release by ellyn & robbie.
Based in Los Angeles, the two have been featured on stages and festivals around the world including Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, Electric Forest, Lightning in a Bottle, Envision and Bumbershoot to name a few.
Ellyn Maybe is a 2012 United States Artist nominee who has been championed by the likes of Henry Rollins, Jackson Browne and Greil Marcus.
Robbie Fitzsimmons is a composer and performer who has collaborated with the likes of Lana Del Rey and Paul Simon.
Together they draw from eclectic influences and backgrounds to make what they describe as
“cinematic phrase paintings with simultaneous symphonic sound sculptures.”
Skywriting with Glitter is a colorful feast for the imagination, a roller-coaster of emotion that swirls together two prolific souls into a unique and inspired symbiosis.
Our website is ellynandrobbie.com.