Lots of people want to write a book. For Los Angeles (by way of Milwaukee) model Elyse Cizek, it became nothing short of a need. During a particularly depressing Milwaukee winter, she applied her raw emotions and English degree to the realm of poetry, saying it saved her life. When her L.A. dreams failed to catch on as quickly as she anticipated and she wasn’t happy with the person she was becoming, Cizek put ink to paper again to get her feelings out and, in the process, see a project through from beginning to end.
Today marks the release of NUDITY, the model-turned-poet’s first book. In accordance with the self-published anthology of her most personal and vulnerable thoughts and emotions becoming available for purchase, Milwaukee Record caught up with Cizek to learn why her time in both L.A. and Milwaukee informed her poetry, how sobriety influenced her perspective, and why she’s grateful (beyond meeting Ron Jeremy).
Milwaukee Record: You don’t often see model and poet on the same résumé. How long have you been writing poetry? When did you realize you had a knack for it?
Elyse Cizek: That’s kind of exactly why I did this. I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I studied poetry at UWM while working on my English degree. I’ve always had a knack for playing with words, finding it easier to express myself through the written word than in actual conversation. The thing I’ve never really had a knack for is following through with anything. My favorite professor in college, Lane Hall, once very accurately introduced me as “a brilliant writer. A shitty student, but a brilliant writer.”
MR: In reading a few of the poems, it seems like some of the themes have to do with modern expectations of beauty and their unrealistic expectations, and the so-called “L.A. lifestyle.” What are some things you learned in the move and how much did your new surroundings and the intensity of the industry inform your writing?
EC: I moved out here with a giant ego. Huge and heinous, actually. Outwardly, I pretended to be humble, but inside I was sure I wouldn’t end up one of the masses who move to L.A. with big dreams and end up sucked into the underbelly of dark pitiful failure. I was going to be the one to make it. I would do it better. I moved out here with the intention to become a successful model and prove everyone wrong and make it with little effort at 28 years old. I believed I had gotten where I did on my own. I was invincible and anyone who needed anything from me was a weight holding me back from my future greatness. I took everyone who had helped me for granted. I was an asshole. I left a path of destruction behind me that I will likely never be able to mend. Rejection came. But so did shallow friendships with people I’d meet at parties whose names I’d known from TV. Parties became chances to redeem my failures through osmosis. Nightlife replaced work. Successful acquaintances became random phonies like myself. I hated myself for not being better, but I dressed up, went out, and played pretend night after night. L.A. is a magical place for playing pretend. When I found myself at my lowest point, all I could do was write it. That’s where some of my favorite pieces were inspired.
MR: You’d told me many of these poems were written over the course of your first five weeks of sobriety in Los Angeles. If it’s not too personal, what led to the decision to stop drinking?
EC: I’m not into talking about it in detail. All I want is to stop fucking everything up. I wanted to find out what I was doing wrong and why I was so unhappy. I had put myself into some very dangerous situations, and one night it came to me that I had lost sight of why I was here. I hurt so many people and had become so unreliable and unaccountable that I couldn’t stand being alone with myself. I decided I wanted to do more. I can’t be anyone else’s idea of perfect or successful, but I can decide what that looks like for me. I can work on things and finish them, and I can learn from my mistakes without thinking less of myself.
MR: With some of the book being written here in Milwaukee before the move, how do you feel that material differs from later stuff?
EC: The pieces I wrote back home were written in my dear friend Kevin’s attic flat off Brady Street during the longest winter in the middle of my deepest depression. I was working at a night club two nights a week, sleeping during the day, and drinking and writing all night. It was dark and so was my writing. I thought about leaving them out but I wanted to include them because they meant so much to me. That winter, poetry and Kevin saved my life. Had I not written, I would surely be dead. I don’t doubt that for a second. As dark as they were, they are truly beautiful in their honesty. That is why they blend well with what I’ve written recently. The collection is raw and honest and holds very little back. It’s not all dark. A lot of my new stuff is funny and the topics and tones vary wildly. It won’t ruin your day to read, but I wanted to go all in.
MR: NUDITY is a pretty evocative title for a book. Why did you decide to call it something so attention-grabbing? What does NUDITY mean to you?
EC: “NUDITY” is the name of a poem I wrote back in Milwaukee about my childhood home. I chose it for the title because I feel like putting this collection out there is baring myself wholly. It’s imperfect, but it’s beautiful. I have a chapter dedicated to heartbreak, one dedicated to pieces that are sensual and intimate, a few pieces read like wild babbling, and all of them are facets of me as a woman who is supposed to be an adult, but who is just now learning how to do that. That vulnerability, I feel, is well represented by the name.
MR: Poetry and interpersonal struggles aside, how is L.A. treating you?
EC: L.A. Is beautiful, truly. Literally, whatever you want out of it can come, but be careful what you wish for. My first day here I got a job, met Ron Jeremy, and saw a man shit in the street in broad daylight. Nothing is a surprise. But I’ve finally made it possible within myself to make real friendships, nurture others, and be grateful for what I have.
Elyse Cizek’s debut book of poems, NUDITY, is available now on Amazon.