|Canadian Review Of Literature In Performance – Ellyn Maybe – Rodeo For The Sheepish
By Fortner Anderson
Every few years there is a producer or entrepreneur who wants to prove reality wrong, who wants to do the impossible and make a business bringing small beautiful productions of poetry to the people. I’m thinking of Harvey Kubernik in Los Angeles who produced poetry compilations on Freeway records and later on New Alliance, where he recorded the best of the Los Angeles poetry scene, bringing us the recordings of Wanda Coleman, Exene Cervenka, Michael C. Ford and dozens more. There was also Gang of Four with its releases of Spalding Grey, Linda Barry and Andrei Codrescu. On the East coast there was Bob Holman and Mouth Almighty Records, a short-lived imprint on Mercury records.
Ellyn Maybe’s latest disc Rodeo for the Sheepish comes from a similar adventure. Put out in 2010 on the Hen House Studios label, it was produced by Harlan Steinberger, who also did the music for the disc (along with Tommy Jordan, who provided back-up vocals). Hen House has put out a number of poetry discs including a new DVD tribute to Kenneth Rexroth entitled The Signature of All Things, and a recent compilation of baseball themed poems entitled The Los Angeles Bards – Live In Pasadena (CD).
Ellyn Maybe, as the story goes, got her moniker from the sign-up sheets at open mics. Always unsure, she’d sign up as Ellyn with a “(maybe)” added to indicate that she might not read when the time came. The name stuck and Ellen Maybe is now one of the premier performance poets in Los Angeles. Her work is praised by Henry Rollins, Jackson Browne and Greil Marcus. Her band will be performing at the prestigious Glastonbury Festival in June 2011.
Rodeo for the Sheepish is strikingly well produced and recorded. The delicious choral work of Tommy Jordan and musical arrangements of Steinberger rival the best. Each of Maybe’s readings is held within its own music frame, sometimes pop influenced, sometimes rythym and blues, sometimes motown. The music doesn’t overwhelm but melds with the work, providing a smooth rendering of the affective landscape and nice ornament to the texts.
It’s evident that Ellyn is very smart. She has seen every film at the Los Angeles Cinématheque from Rhapsody in Blue to 400 Blows and the director’s cut of Heaven’s Gate. She has studied art history from the renaissance to the moderns. She knows the lyrics of the hits of Barry Manilow, ABBA and the GoGo’s. She sends her shout-outs to Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Heinrich Ibsen, Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Vincent Van Gogh, George Harrison, and dozens others.
For the persona in these poems, art is a life bouy. It is the difference between overcoming and succumbing, the difference between life and death. Like she describes in the final poem on the disc, “Parallel Universe”,
Sometimes I wonder if there are one million people
listening at the same time
to the same Leonard Cohen song
the one that keeps people from killing themselves
I got the feeling Maybe’s persona has listened to that record many many times.
There’s no indication of Maybe’s birth name on the disc nor is there a current picture of her, but on the cover and on the inside fold there is a photo of a young girl perhaps six or seven years old. Persumably this is Maybe in her childhood home. The girl looks as though she’s walked off the set of Mad Men, with her tortise shell glasses and kneehigh socks, standing in front of the fire place in the living room of a suburban home somewhere in the arid heart of America. This child is the master of her realm, at ease in her child’s designer dress staring into the camera.
As she says, in the poem “I heard what sounded like a song”:
I was a girl who played hopscotch
I was a girl who picked berries and had little girl crushes
I was a little girl
But something happened in the intervening years. The poems in “Rodeo for the Sheepish” describe a trail of tears that led from the security of that surburban home to the streets of Venice, California.
In her strong reading of “City Streets” Maybe’s persona recalls the souvenirs of an adolecence, where she is slowly crushed by constant humiliation and its banal and everpresent emotional violence. This violence turns her against her own body image.
She was the one people laughed at like she was Chaplin. Like there were silent movies on her body …
The young people are kissing each other. Their faces full of ice cream and calm. She passes a mirror and gives it a finger. Her face didn’t look like that. …
Maybe’s voice still resonates with fear and vulnerability, we feel it as we listen to the disc. But she has also transformed this humiliation and suffering into gleaming sword and shield. She has confronted her demons, faced them head-on, and now she can tell us the story of how she slew her dragons.
Maybe’s capacity to use art as a means to save herself and overcome her attackers is seen in the poem “Picasso”. She tells us she has found a year that likes her body, 1921. In Picasso’s painting she has found a parallel universe where:
Nobody was screaming fat chick at the frame
In her other universe, the one we live and work in, other people scream “fat chick” incessantly. They rip people off emotionally, financially and spiritually and they walk away to do the same to a hundred others. Justice in Maybe’s world comes after, when the verses of Plath or the repartee of Oscar Levant are handed down to those few who keep their flames alive. That is what Maybe is doing on this disc, she is keeping it alive.
Check it out at www.henhousestudios.coma
|Real Life Rock Top Ten – by Greil Marcus
(1) Ellyn Maybe: Rodeo for the Sheepish (Hen House Studios). I heard half of the long, quietly mesmerizing “City Streets” on the radio—what was this? A woman with a poem, with music and a sung chorus not behind her but circling her, and the poem neither exactly recited nor sung, but spoken with such a lilt, in a voice so full of miserabilist pride—at forty, a woman is still getting high-school insults tossed at her (“Hey Mars girl,” a man shouts on the street, “get off the Earth”)—that it’s music in and of itself. There is no bottom to Maybe’s inventiveness, to her adoption of Nirvana’s Oh well whatever never mind as an artistic tool, to a confidence that allows her to toss off a bedrock statement on the American character (“There are people / who know the cuckoo is the state bird / of most states of mind”) in a throwaway voice so that its humor hits you not as a joke but as an echo. There is nothing like this album except for the real life it maps.
Buy the new issue of The Believer here!
|The Pedestal Magazine.com
Rodeo for the Sheepish
Hen House Studios
Reviewer: JoSelle Vanderhooft
Of all the things I review for Pedestal, spoken word CDs are my favorite, both because of their rarity (few poets, after all, have the resources to put one together) and the ingenuity with which they blend visual art, music, and, of course, poetry read aloud. The best of these CDs blend all of these disparate elements to make something that is neither music nor poetry but which uses the common roots of each to create something bold, new, and frequently difficult to categorize, save for the term “performance.” Indeed, the successful spoken word poet is one who does not just read his or her work, but performs it as if it were a stand-up routine, a monologue, part of a “Happening,” or simply as something meant to live beyond the confines of the page.
Ellyn Maybe is a poet who knows how to do just that. Not only a strong poet on paper, she is also a consummate performer with a warm, full voice that is as friendly and inviting as it is delightfully quirky. Few poets—indeed, few performers of any stripe—have the personality, honesty and, yes, unabashed geekiness which Maybe displays in her readings of the ten poems on Rodeo for the Sheepish. Her voice is not only entrancing but unforgettable; indeed, I would very much like to hear her perform live someday.
Happily, Maybe’s poems are not only uniformly strong, but also lend themselves to being spoken so readily that they appear to have been written with performance in mind. Maybe begins the CD strongly with “All My Life I’ve Wanted a Great Love,” in which she enumerates ideal qualities for a lover that are just as unusual as her voice: “Someone who cries at least once a year,” and “Someone whose eyes are not remembered by color, but by every film he’s ever loved.” Maybe then caps this inventive lift with a line that is every bit as wistful as it is funny and ultimately heartbreaking: “Ever since junior high, I thought this person existed. Now I believe more in cows jumping over the moon.”
Maybe skillfully and wittily dissects the struggles and joys of her profession in “Being an Artist” and pays a touching, illuminating, and off-beat tribute to Sylvia Plath in a long poem named for her, and in which Maybe tackles not only the horror of Plath’s treatment at the hands of a sexist culture, but also the importance of her work to young artists, whom she still touches “through tin can lines we walk through.” But my favorite pieces on Rodeo for the Sheepish were the three in which Maybe speaks of women whom U.S. society frequently casts aside or overlooks because they are overweight (“Picasso”), quirky and intelligent (“There Were Two Girls Who Looked a Lot the Same”), or, as with the subject of “City Street,” just lonely, socially awkward, and perhaps depressive. While the poem is best read and listened to in its entirety, these stanzas are some good highlights (rendered in prose-poem format):
She dreams in psychedelic colors, fuschia and periwinkle. When she sleeps, the voices stop. Her voices are loud today. It’s the you’re not normal alto blended with the you’ll never find love baritone. This is her morning coffee. This is what wakes her up.
Today might be different. She whispers words of encouragement but because her ear is bruised from this lifetime, instead of hearing love she hears of and instead of hope it’s nope.
The girl looks at her finger. There was a diamond. She got it when she was 6. Her grandma said no matter what the world thought of her, she deserved beautiful things.
Someone shouted hey baby. It momentarily distracted her from the symphony of lonely conductors playing in her brain.
When asked where she’s going she says the library. Her friend smirks and says you need to get out more…books can’t give you an orgasm.
She responds you aren’t pressing right then. Books have a double life. Just like readers.
While I don’t want to spoil the experience for listeners, the poem does end with a sort of transformation for the subject which is at once moving and exhilarating. Suffice it to say, then, that this poem spoke directly to me as someone who has often felt alone and several steps behind the pacing and concerns of the world around me. I dare say the poem will resonate with several women who have felt the same—whom I assume to be the silent majority of women.
Maybe’s choice of subject matter is not the only thing that makes her poetry sing. She is also profoundly skilled with language. Note above the succinctness and muscle of her lines and her tight control over them (“Her grandma said no matter what the world thought of her, she deserved beautiful things.”). Note also that the poetry in this excerpt uses such tools as metaphor and simile sparingly. Instead, Maybe gives her poetry force through pithy dialogue (“Books have a double life. Just like readers.”) and through powerful, unexpected imagery (“the symphony of lonely conductors playing in her brain.”) This succinct quality makes her poetry ideal for speaking aloud and also beautifully conversational and down-to-earth, two qualities which also make it enormously accessible and relatable—not in the sense that Maybe “dumbs down” any of her subjects, but that she manages to tap into such truly universal feelings as social awkwardness and isolation.
For the most part, a spoken word CD is made or broken by its musical accompaniment. Here, Maybe is extremely fortunate to have found ideal partners in Harlan Steinberger (who also produced Rodeo for the Sheepish) and Tommy Jordan (who doubled as art director for the CD booklet’s striking black and white photographs). Steinberger and Jordan’s instrumentals—of saxophone, drums, guitar and amplifier, to name but a few— complement Maybe’s voice, underscoring rather than overwhelming her words in such a way as to bolster the poems’ themes and ambiances. The trombone, drum licks, and harp of “City Streets,” for example, give the poem an even more awkward and unusual feel, which helps evoke its strange, sad protagonist. The steel guitars in “Sylvia Plath” likewise evoke the sorrow of the poem, just as the electric guitar wails and drum beats in “Picasso” evoke a mood of sexiness, appropriate for a poem about the beauty of large women’s bodies. Interestingly, sometimes Jordan (who provides the tracks’ vocals) will sing a line from the poem during intervals between words or a refrain that, while extraneous to the text, nevertheless complements it well, as the refrain “City streets criss-cross inside me” does in “City Streets.” Together, poetry and music create a unique experience that neither could achieve by itself. While the most obvious name for this experience would be theater, for some reason I find it much closer to visual art, if only because the mental images evoked for me by the words and music of Rodeo for the Sheepish were so bright and vibrant.
Fans of spoken word CDs and lovers of slam poetry with a nerd-girl edge should seek this CD out as soon as they finish reading this review, as should anyone curious to see the highs to which this blended art form can aspire. I cannot recommend Rodeo for the Sheepish enough.
|About.com – Poetry Picks – The Best CDs of 2009 - Selected by Bob Holman and Margery Snyder - January, 2010
Ellyn Maybe got her moniker because she was too shy to commit when she signed up for the open mic list—“Ellyn,” she’d write, “maybe.” She’s an LA phenomenon, published by Henry Rollins, the lovechild of Gertrude Stein and Allen Ginsberg, a lyrical poet in hippie couture, a one-of-a-kind. Now, with Rodeo for the Sheepish, she shows she’s ready for Las Vegas. Brilliant settings by producer Harlan Steinberger, superlative vocal backtracks by Tommy Jordan—all of a sudden, she’s gone Motown and you can hear the sheer force of Poetry vs. Pop music in an arena the size of Radio City Poetry Hall. Humor, poignancy, universality, individuality—like all great artists, how she does it is a mystery, but Ellyn Maybe is for real.
|Discovery Channel – Planet Green – January, 2010
I had never heard of Ellyn Maybe before a chance meeting in Los Angeles. Shame on me, considering her poetry pedigree is practically second to none. With her latest project, a spoken word/music album, Rodeo for the Sheepish, it is easy to see why she was named one of ten poets to watch in the new millennium by Writer’s Digest.
What’s particularly delightful about this album is that in addition to hearing her perform her poems, the album is also full of the vocal stylings of Tommy C. Jordan, of whose band Geggy Tah David Byrne once said:
“Geggy Tah are so post modern that they’ve come out the other side.”
We had a chat with both Ellyn and Tommy about making the album, inspiring social change through words, plus got a little insight into what both artists are working on next.
PG: What gave you the idea to do an album of spoken word set to music?
Ellyn Maybe: Since I reference music so often in my work it seems natural to do a spoken word/music album. This amazing opportunity came about when I reconnected with my cousin Harlan Steinberger who is wonderfully talented and he suggested we go in the studio and record a few poems with a click track and the album evolved very quickly.
We recorded everything at that first recording and then I went back after the music was finished and rerecorded some poems once I knew what the musical accompaniment was as that affected the reading.
We’re working on turning Rodeo for the Sheepish into a movie musical and hopefully a live stage show too. If anyone wants to create images for a track or a vignette for in between the songs they should please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re open to live action, animation, photography, painting, sketching, dance…
PG: How did working with Tommy C Jordan come about?
EM: Tommy has known Harlan a very long time and I loved what he brought with his vocals, hooks and how that shaped things. Tommy did the art direction for the CD and that turned out fabulous!
PG: Is there an underlying theme behind the album?
EM: Interestingly 5 of the 10 tracks are poems written while I was in Prague studying film at FAMU for two school years. There are definite things that go through my body of work. Love of music and the other arts, feeling a bit different that sort of thing, what’s going on in the emotional landscape.
PG: I had heard some mention that you went to Prague to study…
EM: I’d been getting more and more interested in learning about film and also heard such amazing things about Prague. I ended up getting the Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship from the U.S. Department of Education which made the experience possible. I only expected to be there one school year but ended up staying two!
PG: How do you see poetry as a force to help inspire people towards social or personal change?
I think because I reference different stuff in my work, as well as there being a social justice thread quite often in my poetry, people listening to it might get inspired to look into things. One can go to an open mic and hear very topical poems.
Consequently, the art that resonates most is timeless because though the names and faces change, unfortunately, the human condition is pretty consistent.
Since I began reading my work I’ve gotten a lot of wonderful feedback thanking me for my candor, people have resonated with the work big time. Art is a very natural part of my life, the fact that I was so shy and never expected to read in public but that I do has inspired others.
I have a poem called “A Day in the Life of a Working Poor Xylophone Maker,” which talks about a lot of stuff but like most of my poems that deal with social issues it is also surreal, imagistic, and has humor.
One thing I think that people enjoy is the mix of emotions and moods. I think the subtlety is appreciated and since my poetry is a natural gift, I just am very grateful.
PG: Picasso is one of my favorite pieces/poems in that it addresses a feeling that I think a lot of women probably struggle with. Basically the “standard of beauty” which stood for hundreds of years has basically eroded in one lifetime, making a lot of women uncomfortable in their own bodies. Can you talk a little about that?
EM: I think your intro to the question basically nailed it!
PG: Is there a favorite track on the album for you?
EM: Wow, tough question. There Were Two Girls Who Looked A Lot The Same is certainly one which I feel very strongly about but fortunately I feel the whole record came out really great. Deep gratitude to everyone who had a hand in making it. People were so incredibly dedicated at every level of the process. Now we’re beginning to rehearse for live concerts, very exciting!
PG: What drew you to this project?
Tommy C. Jordan: Harlan, the producer, is an old friend. He drew me into the picture.
After meeting Ellyn i realized it is a moving picture.
PG: You’ve written some of my favorite songs over the years and I wonder, what’s it like coming into something where the words/music are already there, and injecting your own self into that?
TCJ: It felt fun. Sometimes strange. Strange fun. Fast.
i love sopapillas.
PG: How did your own creative process work in this album?
TCJ: It was a Rorschach test to sound beds rather than inkblots.
What’s your favorite track on the album? Any of the poems really stand out and connect with you…affect you?
TCJ: Ellyn affects me in surprising ways. When words stop being words, its hard to say.
My favorite songs are the songs that stop being songs, and become vehicles of transportation.
City Streets makes me cry.
PG: What’s next for you? New Geggy Tah anytime soon?
TCJ: I am on a quest to ride in an actual “Poetry Rodeo.”
This Saturday I’m performing a wedding march I wrote for some friends. A good many friends have been sending Mendelhson’s “Here Comes the Bride..” to the showers; inviting fresh ceremonial tunes into play.
Luaka Bop (David Byrne’s label) now and again inquires about releasing a “Best Of “. Sometimes I find my finger wet and in the air glistening. – By Alan Graham
|Art Predator - December, 2009
I’ve been a huge fan of Ellyn’s since I met her back about 1996 and first started hearing her read around. I’ve bought her books, both formally and informally published, and enjoyed them. The format here is lovely–you get both a CD and text of the poems; this way, you can put the CD in with the others and the book on the shelf! I’m looking forward to putting this CD in the changer in the car and listening to it on road trips. – Gwendolyn Alley
|Luciole Press – Interview – December, 2009
LP: Ellyn, your new CD is absolutely gorgeous. It is unique, beautiful, and phenomenally expressive. You serve as an inspiration to so many people, encouraging them by your glowing individuality. My first question to you: were you always the fearless artist you are now? Was there ever a time you felt like you could not speak in your own voice, or ever tried to go with the crowd?
EM: Thanks so much for your sweet words Karen! I’ve always done what came to me, the poems come when they’re ready. I did feel originally that I would be too shy to read my work aloud, but thankfully I had strong encouragement from the get go.
LP: Your words always contain an utter realism and “knowningness” that belies any particular age or situation in life. You serve as an acute observer who relates the most minute details of life in a reflection that serves not just as a mirror for your audience, but more often a microscope that brings greater clarity. I know about the amazing accomplishments you have (we will link to those), but I have yet to see much information about your life. You remain an enigma in some ways. Where were you born? What was it like for Ellyn, the young budding poet, in school? You are simultaneously able to seem shy at times, yet supremely confident in your worth as an artist. Please give some insight into your journey.
EM: I am from Milwaukee. In school I gravitated to spending time with the teachers, more than the students, but I did enjoy writing for the school newspaper in high school and made some friends there. I tend to find, if fortunate, a few close kindreds rather than a whole circle of people.
LP: You got your name, “Maybe,” because you used to write your name on a list for open readings, then write “maybe” after it, in case you got cold feet. Is this correct? How did you overcome your trepidations?
EM: That is true. I think I was fortunate in that the community embraced me. The first time I read I was at an open reading that had 19 readers and wanted 20, so someone lifted my hand up as I hadn’t even signed up for it and people were so sweet. S.A. Griffin was there and after the reading people went out to eat and he quoted my work, and I had heard him read and dug his work too. To be appreciated is a truly wonderful thing!
LP: In “Being an artist,” you mention “shrinking tie-dyed tee-shirts/ cause you were thinking about a poem and/ didn’t notice the washer was on hot water.” Perfectly encapsulates why so many writers get the label of being eccentric or absent-minded, when they are actually so transported and focused on something creative. How prolific are you writing-wise? Do you ever feel, after you have gone to bed, that you must get up to write down a poem that is struggling for release? Do you try to practice a schedule of writing, as some do, or are you a poet who lets it come when it will? Or both?
EM: My writing as far as prolific goes varies greatly depending on my life. I wrote a lot while in Prague. Been writing some poems lately for events that Tommy Jordan (the amazing guy who did the vocals and the art direction for the CD) and I have been performing (at). Also I wrote a bunch of poems for a collaboration with my cousins who take nature photographs.
Yes, if a poem comes it’s vital to get up and write it down. I don’t really have a schedule per se, but with the event poems and the nature poems they came quickly. Just like my poems have since I started.
LP: In “Parallel Universe” (which has appeared in Luciole Press), you mention that you “wonder if there are one million people/ listening at the same time/ to the same Leonard Cohen song/ the one that keeps people from killing themselves.” This brings up an interesting point about connections… sometimes writers are assumed to be completely solitary creatures who do not think about the audience, but only about their words and characters (as the case may be). But you, and a fair amount of poets in your L.A. community like S.A. Griffin, are very empathetic and are very aware of others in their work. You seem to be blazingly human, not afraid of what connects you to others, even if it is by the pain you share. Do you ever consciously think about this connection, or does this always come through naturally? Do you agree with the maxim that poets must always write for themselves, or no one can connect to the poem?
EM: I think it comes through naturally, but I tend to be someone who really is inspired by other artists and other art forms so that might come through naturally. I think everyone probably has their own process but it seems the more specific one goes into something the more universal it comes out. The lack of vagueness and generality seems to be something others grasp more vibrantly.
LP: The breathtaking poem, “All My Life I’ve Wanted a Great Love,” charts your progress from a hopeful young Ellyn, to an Ellyn who would believe “in cows jumping over the moon” before believing that your great love existed. Yet the poem itself is not negative in any sense, nor does it leave the reader hopeless. Rather than charting unrealistic expectations, you offer poignant pieces of a profound and honest heart: looking for “someone who cries once a year/ who is silly and serious/ believes in myth,” loves poetry and offers it with “a book on my pillow with a rose and a zillion post-it notes marking favorite images.” When did you write this poem? How do you leap across “life’s creeks” on your own in a world where the jokes being told make people cringe, and manners can be non-existent? What faith do you keep, or not, in mankind as an artist who believes that “Being an artist means you don’t feel you have the right to remain silent?”
EM: I wrote this poem in Prague. In fact 5 of the 10 tracks from Rodeo for the Sheepish were written while in Prague!
I stay hopeful, cause what’s the Beckett title. “I can’t go on, I will go on, I go on…” Sometimes kindred spirits appear and it really does make the world glow.
LP: How did your lovely CD come about? Did you have the idea, and set about finding a way to make it happen, or did someone pitch the idea to you? Did you have much input in the layout of the CD? I am very glad copies of your poems were included. Truly, this CD is one of the very best I have seen in terms of presentation and accessibility.
EM: Thanks so much Karen! My cousin Harlan Steinberger, who is the producer and composer, invited me to record a few poems at his studio on click track and it evolved very quickly into the album. Tommy, who did the layout of the CD, is stellar to work with and was very open to any comments I had and wanted to make sure I was totally happy with how it came out, and I am!
LP: Take us through the process of choosing which poems to include in the CD. How long did it take to record?
EM: It came quickly trying to figure out which poems to use, turns out as I mentioned many from the Prague era. Michael C. Ford, who is one of the associate producers, remembered my piece about Sylvia Plath so that one was included which is very cool.
First I recorded everything on click track. When the music was composed I went back and rerecorded some poems as knowing the music affected my reading of the work. It was quite seamless really.
LP: What has the feedback been like?
EM: Stunningly positive. (Check out) www.ellynmaybe.fanfeedback
LP: Who do you envision as your ‘target audience?’
EM: Very open; (I) hope whoever might resonate with it finds it.
LP: What are your future plans?
EM: We are working on turning Rodeo for the Sheepish into a movie musical and perhaps a live stage show too.
If anyone is interested in creating images for a track or perhaps a silent vignette in between the songs, they should please get in touch with me. (email@example.com)
We’re very open… it could be live action, animation, painting, photography, dance. – By Karen Bowles
|Luciole Press – Review – December, 2009
The first track on Rodeo for the Sheepish, Ellyn Maybe’s phenomenally expressive new CD, is entitled “All My Life I’ve Wanted a Great Love.” It quickly becomes clear to any listener that Ellyn has indeed had a Great Love, and that is poetry. Her uncanny ability to create shockingly articulate poems is only matched by her towering reading skill – her poems sing with richness and depth as she weaves her word tapestries, unfurling them for the ears and hearts of her listeners like a beacon guiding the audience away from the rocky shores of isolation and fear of being different. Ellyn celebrates the gifts that set her apart, and in the process, steers her listeners into a gentler and more accepting stream of consciousness. Her CD is very well-crafted, containing 10 tracks of some of her best work. Producer/composer Harlan Steinberger and vocalist Tommy Jordan are responsible for the musical arrangements, which compliment Ellyn’s often sensual readings, creating what feels like a movie soundtrack. Listeners are transported by both words and sounds into a parallel universe of reality. With such capable musical backing, it becomes clear that Ellyn doesn’t need to sing a single note in order to be a poetry rock star.
Lucky for the listener, Art Director Tommy Jordan and Graphic Artist Curt Gaiser created a very user-friendly CD; the jacket of the CD includes a booklet of each of her poems in their entirety. A picture of Ellyn as a young girl connects us to the fearless artist whose glowing individuality serves to inspire her fans to be resolutely true to themselves. She reminds us that artists “identify in the struggle to stay alive,” in a clear voice whose softness does not hide the grit, steely determination, and knowingness she has been endowed with. Her way of being an artist includes not feeling like she has “the right to remain silent,” and listeners can rejoice in the fact that they now can have a piece of Ellyn’s voice to carry with them, to reach for when they need a special kind of insight into the issues we all face, being “flesh on a rock.” Rodeo for the Sheepish is a full-bodied ode to a woman who is not afraid to be complicated, vibrantly different, and defiantly soft and beautiful in a world that expects many people to be “one calorie away from suicide.” She is quite simply, as fellow poet S.A. Griffin dubbed her, “the giggling goddess of word.” Ellyn brings you her divine mirth on each track of this CD, always welcoming each listener as they are, and never laughing at their expense. It is a world we are privileged to be able to re-visit whenever we need to, as each listen to the CD unfolds into a new world of expression reborn within us with the voice of a woman who “gives us faith in mankind.” – Karen Bowles Publisher of Luciole Press
|The Santa Monica Mirror – December 18, 2009
Support Your Local Author
Whether one prefers Kindle or a real tome between hard covers, a book makes a great holiday gift. This year, why not give a book by a local author? Here are a few literary offerings that the Mirror has become aware of this year, all by local or Santa Monica authors and presses.
In Our Quiet Village by Mary Lou Chayes (Dog Ear Publishing, dogearpublishing.net) is a novel, based on fact, about a German immigrant, his family, and the unfortunate turn their lives take when the father’s second marriage to his former housekeeper becomes unbearable. The somewhat steamy story is set in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in upstate New York and unfolds against a background of union organizing and social and technological changes. The author lives in Santa Monica and is publishing this, her first novel, at age 82.
Urban Worrier by Frank Gruber (City Image Press, cityimagepress.com) was reviewed in the Mirror’s June 18 issue. A collection of Gruber’s columns for the online Lookout News, it examines in detail Santa Monica’s political and social landscape: the City Council and civic meetings, development issues, changes in the city’s appearance and economy, even the problems and advantages of the weather. Gruber’s style is imaginative, often humorous, and always honest.
The Waxman Report: How Congress Really Works by Henry Waxman with Joshua Green (Twelve, twelvebooks.com) is a political memoir by the Westside’s longtime congressman. Waxman traces his roots growing up in Los Angeles, getting involved with politics in the 1960s, being elected to the state assembly and then to Congress, and becoming involved with key legislation on health care, medications, tobacco, and the environment. In clear and uncomplicated prose, Waxman details how politics is a tough, often dirty game, and how he has persevered in fighting for laws that help America and his constituency.
The Demented Chauffeur & Other Mysteries by Michael C Ford (Ion Drive, IonDrivePublishing.com) is an odd little book of poems about crimes and mysteries in Los Angeles. Ford, an admirer of film noir, Raymond Chandler, and the haunting terrain of a bygone L.A., writes about the Black Dahlia, movie stars, tragic true stories of lost starlets, and tough times in Tinseltown. His view might seem bleak and apocalyptic at times but with titles like “Madonna and Prince Are Invited Aboard the Deathstar,” and “I Wish I Coulda Been a Humphrey Bogart Big Shot,” it’s obvious that there’s some fun to be had here too.
Ford’s book can be found at the Beyond Baroque bookstore in Venice where one can also find spoken word CDs such as Rodeo for the Sheepish (Henhouse Studios, henhousestudios.com). Rodeo features the amusing and mind-blowing poetry of Ellyn Maybe set to musical backgrounds by Harlan Steinberger and Tommy Jordan. It’s not hip-hop; it’s something else, jazzy and hypnotic and certainly in a class by itself. It’s been getting airplay on KCRW and other college stations. Pick it up now and be ahead of the next wave. – Lynn Bronstein
|WLUR FM – November 24, 2009
Late November/early December must be spoken-word time of the year for WLUR. Ellyn Maybe is another poet who speaks over airy and jazzy backing tracks, but when there is singing going on, it sounds integrated and rich, not simply the background noise to her spoken word. Henry Rollins approves, so shouldn’t you? Track 3 is a good sampling.
|TheNervousBreakdown.com – November 24, 2009
Ellyn Maybe: The TNB Self-Interview
by Ellyn Maybe, Venice Beach, CA
Who are some of your inspirations?
I love show tunes, Stephen Sondheim, Gershwin, Lerner and Loewe. There are so very many great ones! Irving Berlin, Kander and Ebb, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Rodgers and Hart, Cole Porter, Leonard Bernstein. I recently saw a great documentary on Johnny Mercer. I love Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, Phil Ochs, Joni Mitchell, Dan Bern, Duke McVinnie. I also love film scores, Bernard Herrmann, Georges Delerue. I love film so very much, I went to film school in Prague for two years, amazing city. Some filmmakers I love include Billy Wilder, Francois Truffaut, Martin Scorsese, Stanley Kubrick, and Milos Forman.
When did you start writing?
When I was a little girl I wrote stories, being of low self-esteem; it was too fun so I stopped ’til I moved to NYC when I was 20 and the poems just arrived. I haven’t stopped since.
Can you say something about your process?
Something tends to spark a poem and it gels quickly. It has been this way since I began whether the source of inspiration is a photograph, an event, work or love. I don’t edit much at all but sometimes things get tweaked, often though they are left alone. I’m grateful for the process as I think with imagery just letting it come when it’s ready seems to be working. I trust it and know that any period of my life might be more prolific or not but I am very exuberant about other artists and enjoy watching movies, listening to music, etc. These are very nourishing activities to me and I don’t feel pressure to write every day or anything like that.
How did you get your name?
When I first started reading I was extremely shy and didn’t know if I’d be up to reading when my name was called so after Ellyn I put in parentheses (Maybe I’ll read…) and it stuck. I also like how the y in Ellyn goes with the y in Maybe but that just is pure serendipity!
What are you up to now?
I recently completed a poetry/music CD, Rodeo for the Sheepish. I have the most amazing collaborators, Harlan Steinberger and Tommy Jordan. The feedback for the album has been stellar. And we’re turning the CD into a movie, and hopefully a live show too.
If anyone out there has any ideas, as Tommy would say, we are delighted to hear them!
Thanks for your time, Ellyn.
Absolutely, my pleasure!
|PoeticDiversity.org – December, 2009
Fans of poetry might insist poetry is best enjoyed by reading it silently to oneself, hearing the poet’s voice in one’s imagination or substituting his or her own voice instead. Others may disagree, arguing that poetry read or performed live is the only way to experience it. Poetry CDs most likely fall somewhere in between, merging both worlds without fully committing to either.
Ellyn Maybe’s Rodeo for the Sheepish is a collection of ten poems and includes favorites like “All My Life I’ve Wanted a Great Love,” “Picasso,” and “Being an Artist.” Each poem is backed by a soundtrack of R&B laced with pop and jazz and features saxophone and trombone on a few tracks. Background vocalists sing a line from each poem repeatedly as each track plays, creating a chorus-like effect, which thankfully doesn’t get in the way of the poem or the poet’s voice, except on “I Heard What Sounded Like a Song,” where Maybe’s voice competes with an overlaid digitized backup vocal. It’s a bit frustrating to parse out Maybe’s words from the lyrics, but considering the poem’s title, it’s appropriate enough.
On CD Maybe’s voice is slightly lower than her characteristically high pitched “little girl voice” heard at readings and her delivery is not as clipped, but those aren’t drawbacks, necessarily. Finding these small differences in tone and pacing between live readings and recordings adds another dimension to experiencing Ellyn Maybe and her poetry. You hear her trademark wit and quixotic train of thought, but with only slight variances, like an accent. Her words and how she interprets them alongside musical accompaniment sound familiar and brand new all at once on a recording.
It’s worth noting that Maybe spent two years abroad in Prague while attending film school a few years ago and that her poems are the richer for it. They’re accentuated by multiple histories–personal, literary, and filmic–and it’s as much an education to read up on her references to Oscar Levant and Harold Lloyd and hear her describe what it’s like to listen to Sylvia Plath on LP as it is to consider that perhaps one never really outgrows a certain awkwardness forever born of seeing the world from an outsider’s point of view. Charlie Chaplin couldn’t have said it better, even in the age of silent film. – Julia Bemiss
Julia Bemiss has been published in the San Diego Reader Online, The San Diego Troubadour, WordSD, and in the anthologies for poeticdiversity and the Valley Contemporary Poets. She has featured and read at venues in Los Angeles and San Diego and self-published two chapbooks.
|Poetic Diversity – Marie Lecrivain interview with Ellyn Maybe, May 2006
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.
|Salon.com – “Yom Kippur Blues”
Ellyn Maybe’s “The Cowardice of Amnesia” is a sparkling debut from a poet who’s already proven herself on the spoken word circuit. She dazzles her readers with streams of un/sub/consciousness, drowns them in murky-beautiful word rivers, yells “catch!” as she throws out the darts of her sub/urban imaginings and lovingly lunges at all manner of hypocrisy and cant.
Maybe’s stuff calls Gregory Corso and Allen Ginsberg (at least, the less self-indulgent Ginsberg) richly to mind. Her lines create loads of tension. Her images by turns wound and salve. Her use of anaphora (beginning successive lines with same phrase) is at once classical and intense. Her poems are funny as hell, but hell isn’t very funny now, is it? She makes the personal universal and the universal personal. You will take her very personally. You will have to.
“The Cowardice of Amnesia” is edited by Exene Cervenkova (aka Cervenka) spoken word luminary and former lead singer of the seminal L.A. band X.
Listen to Maybe read her poem “Yom Kippur Blues” from the compilation “My Tongue Is A Red Carpet” (Alibi 13).