Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer is a poet and installation artist in St. Louis. She is the author of the poetry collections Well Waiting Room (Fordham University Press, 2021) and Cleavemark (BOAAT Press, 2016), as well as The Cloud Lasso (Penny Candy Books, 2019), a children’s book. She has an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and her poems and art have appeared in Bomb Magazine, Georgia Review, Harvard Review, Bennington Review, Iowa Review, AGNI, The Offing, Denver Quarterly, LIT, Colorado Review, Washington Square, on the Poetry Foundation site, and elsewhere. She frequently collaborates with other artists, most recently with Cheryl Wassenaar on the installation The Cabinet of Ordinary Affairs at the Des Lee Gallery.
As a poet and installation artist, my work is preoccupied with the found and the sought. I investigate ideas of accumulation, both physically and metaphorically. In my poems, I am keenly concerned with the materiality of language—its origins, musicality, vernacular, and agendas. With a droll and sometimes plangent tone, I borrow from disparate, unremarkable sources—news broadcasts, medical reports, movie dialogue, pop songs, scripture, overheard conversations. I strive to create a sound and diction that establishes an intimacy with the reader, one that’s familiar, if unplaceable.
The poems in my new manuscript, Well Waiting Room, explore the politics of the mind, through interior government officials. These bureaucrats preside over specific functions of the psyche and include a press secretary, a curator, a librarian, and ministers for the cabinets of Self-Preservation, Desire, Lesser Offenses, Confrontations, Retribution, Misgivings, and many others. They operate in a space where the personal becomes the political and the political becomes the personal, tackling everyday indignations and global catastrophes.
In my visual work, I experiment with the off-label uses of everyday materials like pickling salt, soap, and sugar to transform the ordinary into talismanic and elegiac objects. I often work responsively, making written and visual ekphrastics inspired by daily encounters. Much of my installation work is created in collaboration with the artist Cheryl Wassenaar, and our work merges sculpture, sound, video, text, and design to create what we think of as poems in space. I relish the chance to work with another artist because it means combining our skill sets and vision. It takes a lot of trust.