Alumni portfolios

  • Spool & soap detail from "Cleavemark Drive," a collaborative installation with Cheryl Wassenaar
    Spool & soap detail from "Cleavemark Drive," a collaborative installation with Cheryl Wassenaar

Stephanie Schlaifer


Originally from Atlanta, Georgia, Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer is a poet and installation artist in St. Louis. She is the author of Cleavemark, forthcoming from BOAAT Press in 2016, and Strangers with a Lifeboat, a limited-edition chapbook illustrated by Jeff Pike. Schlaifer has an MFA in poetry from the Iowa Writers' Workshop and a BFA/BA from Washington University in St. Louis. Her poems have appeared in AGNI, Denver Quarterly, LIT, Colorado Review, Fence, and elsewhere. Schlaifer was a semi-finalist for the 2015 Discovery/Boston Review Prize, and she was selected for Best New Poets 2015. She frequently collaborates with other artists, most recently with Cheryl Wassenaar on the installation "Cleavemark Drive."


As a poet and a sculptor, I am keenly concerned with the integrity of materiality—its honesty, poignancy, and authenticity. My poems are foremost concerned with sound—whatever the content, I strive to create a singular diction. It establishes an intimacy with the reader. It should feel familiar, if unplaceable. Though I am deeply invested in craft, I do not see that reverence as preclusive to experimentation. In my installation work, material is language, and I seek specificity, tactility, and resonance—unusual substances which carry their own agenda, like salt, sugar, and soap. Sometimes I use these to alter found objects; other times, I cast objects from them, creating something tangible but unreachable. My first book Cleavemark (forthcoming from BOAAT Press, 2016) is a kind of lament through architecture. Its language borrows from familiar, if disparate, sources—the Bible, obscure movies, the clinical language of accident reports. With this source material, I create a speaker who can engage old memories with deliberateness and agenda. In my newer poems, the Cabinet Series, I imagine the mind as collection of governing bodies, where a variety of unusual bureaus, such as the Cabinet of Ordinary Affairs or the Cabinet of Lesser Offenses, preside over the inner workings of the psyche, weighing important decisions, calculating the weight of survival. In my art and my writing, I strive to create an engrossing experience, where the rhetorical power is created by the lyrical puissance. If nothing is being risked, it's not worth keeping.