Chai and the Fog of Creativity: Elya Braden Discusses her New Chapbook “Open the Fist”

by Molly Mellinger

An Author Interview by Molly Mellinger

I’m having trouble getting into the Zoom meeting with the poet Elya Braden, although I’m supposed to be the millennial here. I apologize and Elya says, brightly, “Oh! I’ll fix it,” and she does. She tells me that she also teaches a Zoom workshop, as well as a workshop on first-time publication, which she insisted upon being held as a group because the community, she felt, was essential. Among these many endeavors, Braden has just released a beautiful chapbook with Finishing Line Press called Open the Fist, which she is realistic but still cheerful about promoting during a time when a very hard sell to a largely poetry-averse public has become a very hard sell to a shut-in, poetry-averse public.

In preparation for marketing the chapbook (as the pandemic had not yet ramped up when she was in her pre-marketing period), Braden created business cards with her art on the front and the book info on the back. She also created the cover art for Open the Fist, a striking mixed-media piece that resembles a rough tree made of hands in different colors and poses. The hands are her own. Finishing Line was supportive of using her art, which she pursues full steam ahead as well. One gets the sense that Braden’s way is to be both the Jack and the master of all trades.

We begin to discuss the chapbook. There are 18 poems in the book, and the number 18, “chai,” Braden tells me, is lucky in Judaism, of which she is a practitioner. I ask her if she set out to write a series of poems that would live together as a chapbook or if she pulled from work over time.

She explains that the process took years. “You wouldn’t know it, reading this,” she says wryly, “but I write about all kinds of other things than trauma, and so over the years as I was writing I would notice here and there a poem that spoke to that theme, and I’d sort of put it aside and the pile grew.”

Incidentally, one of these poems, “Overrun,” was chosen in 2016 as CausewayLit’s contest Honorable Mention, and in fact, the editors had chosen another of Braden’s poems as the winner but it had been published elsewhere before Braden could be notified. Clearly, she was active in the poetry community, working, learning, writing, and in a hugely necessary catharsis, she was periodically writing these poems about the trauma that had gone on in her home as a child.

The 18 poems of the chapbook relate different stages of trauma – the incest as a child, the growing older and beginning to process, the freedom then hemmed in by panic attacks, and the anger. I asked Elya how it felt to begin the book with a poem called “To My Sisters in Incest I Need to Say.” I wondered if there was any trepidation. In her Elya way, she said no, it was necessary to kick the door down because that’s the kind of story this is.

It’s worth mentioning that Braden takes every possible opportunity to express gratitude and joy about her life now, which in a perverse but beautiful way mirrors the release of her chapbook. After university, Braden went on to become a corporate lawyer, got married, and ground herself into the dirt for 18 years until the memories of abuse by her brother, flashbacks to abuse by her father, her mother’s negligence, and a life-changing writing class took her by the shoulders and turned her 180 degrees. She is remarried now, happily, in a writing community she loves, both a student and a teacher, with life covered benignly by what she calls the “fog of creativity.”

“I’m so grateful that I have this amazing life,” she says, clutching her heart. “I’m married for the second time, I adore my husband, I adore where we live, I’ve got two great kids. So much is so great – and since I’ve changed my life, and gotten back from being a corporate securities lawyer and living this high-wire act that wasn’t really me in a lot of ways…I’m getting to do the things I loved as a child, to be my authentic self, and I’m so grateful for that.”

Elya Braden’s chapbook Open the Fist can be purchased at: 
Open The Fist by Elya Braden – Finishing Line Press

Follow Elya on facebook at @elya.braden and IG at @elyabraden.

Molly Mellinger is a poet from California and Connecticut. Her work, which deals primarily with familial/inherited trauma, has appeared in Valparaiso Poetry ReviewConnecticut Review, Long River Run, and others. She is the force behind Hera Creative Consulting and is an Associate Editor of CausewayLit.

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