This month of April, to celebrate the launch of our press and coinciding with Poetry Month, we at BACKWORDS would like to honor each of our writers from our inaugural printing. First up is the eloquent Elaina Ellis. Her bio, while impressive, cannot fully capture the presence she brings when performing her work. She is simultaneously an accomplished editor and poet. Ellis currently resides in the Seattle area of Washington, and brings true beauty to the words she forms and the words she oversees.
When the three of us, the people behind BACKWORDS Press, started envisioning who we would each pick to be part of our first issue, Ellis was the first on my mind. Without even knowing it, she has played a pivotal role in my own connection to literature, to poetry, and to writing. I met Elaina Ellis a few years ago at Idaho State University. The LGBT club on campus, that I had helped to run, and the Women’s Gender Resource Center were working together to bring in an artist to read and facilitate a writing workshop. Unfortunately, our original guest canceled almost 24 hours before, but, quite fortuitously, and through the hard work of the resource center, we secured Ellis as a replacement and she found her way to Pocatello, Idaho.
I’ve never been more grateful for that crisis, because it’s impossible for me to imagine anyone else teaching that workshop. She got some amazing responses and participation from the audience, especially after sharing poems from her own book, Write About an Empty Birdcage. I, however, remained silent, too timid to share some of my own work. When she signed my book after the workshop ended, I will never forget her gentle prodding as to why I did not share. She told me that I shouldn’t be so afraid. When reading the inscription in that book from her recently, I realized just how much her presence mattered to me. She wrote, “Thank you for your generous listening. PS: write it all down.”
After that encounter, Ellis helped me to write more, and her words continue to give me strength even today. Writing for BACKWORDS, writing for myself, writing for others. I will always be grateful to her, and that is also why it is my special privilege to be working with her today, as a peer, publishing her words. Even now, I’m wearing her shirt and cannot wait to start sharing it.
In Ellis’ poem, “Thoughts on Joy or 25 Things You Don’t Know About Me,” you can get a glimpse of her power, her process, and her humor. It was also in this poem I found the line “Sometimes not ready is the readiest you’ll ever be.” The line was a perfect reminder for me in writing this, and in pushing forward with BACKWORDS Press. I can only hope that her words will inspire you they way they did me. If you need even more inspiration, listen to her 2012 TEDx Tacoma Talk titled, “Brilliant Together: The Magic of Creative Collaboration.” Thank you Elaina Ellis for your words.
Elaina Ellis is the author of the poetry collection Write About an Empty Birdcage. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles, and is the founder of TumbleMe
Productions and former Executive Director at Bent Writing Institute. She currently serves as Associate Editor at Copper Canyon Press.