Well Waiting Room
Poets Out Loud
Published by: Fordham University Press
83 pages, 152.00 x 228.00 x 0.00 mm
- ISBN: 9780823297771
- Published: September 2021
A collection of poems that contemplates the bureaucracy of the mind through interior political cabinets.
Taking its name from the banal, purgatorial space outside (but inside) a doctor’s office, Well Waiting Room imagines the conversations we have with ourselves at this liminal site as an exchange between interior bureaucrats, each of whom governs a particular aspect of the psyche. The poems explore the dynamics of this political ministry, which includes the Cabinets of Desire, Indulgences, Self-Preservation, Ordinary Affairs, Ambivalence, Confrontations, and many others—there’s even a press secretary, a curator, and a general counsel. Like a cabinet of curiosity wrapped in red tape, the poems examine the compartmentalization of the mind and the confounding news of the day.
Formally, the poems range from dramatic monologues to combative sonnets, quippy memos to voicey prose blocks, incantatory interludes to dreamlike visual landscapes. Sometimes, the poems address a purely internal conflict: why do we lie to ourselves, indulge in schadenfreude, repeat the same mistakes? Other times, the poetic lens points outward like a spear, confronting the external universe: social injustice, polar ice melt, the Trump administration, and other manmade disasters. But in both universes, the poems find joy: the first observation of gravitational waves, the otherworldly beauty of rare marine species, the discovery that you are your own best way out.
For Schlaifer, the underlying question is an epistemological one, an ontological one, a theological one. Why are we here, how do we know things, and why does God—so often—seem to be working against us? In Schlaifer’s bureaucratic vision of the mind, readers will see their own internal voices affectingly (and often humorously) reflected. The book traverses unknowable terrain in sturdy boots. It unearths not answers but better questions for our time.
Engaged in ekphrasis with contemporary news media, Stephanie Ellis Schlaifer’s Well Waiting Room creates a shimmering echolalia of postmodern politics, government bureaucracy, and administrative memoranda. In this riveting collection of deftly mercurial poems, Schlaifer casts a net woven from the linguistic materiality of red tape into the cultural froth and foment of our 21st-century wine-dark seas. Weathering bizarre climactic storms and profoundly corrupt and cynical political leaders, these poems sift out—from the overwhelming static of our information age—surreal fish, cultural refuse, and piercing moments of self-reflection within the uncertainty, absurdity, and terror of our current political moment. These are poems of fierce wit, intense grief, and immense linguistic beauty, that pose—in tones alternately harrowing, savage, heartbreaking, and droll—the most urgent philosophical, moral, and spiritual questions of our time. ~Lee Ann Roripaugh, author of tsunami vs. the fukushima 50
Drawing a parallel between the collapse of a national governing body and an ungovernable self, Stephanie’s Schlaifer’s dazzling and poignant book evokes the lyrical mystery of Elizabeth Bishop while finding its truer heir in the exacting eye of Marianne Moore. Moving between the chaos of the political news cycle and the extreme weather induced by the ecological crisis, Well Waiting Room bureaucratizes the mind in an effort to control these surreal realities — finding greater reason in dreams, in art, in animals than the inscrutable cruelties of man or God. I’m in awe of these razor-sharp poems and the acuity with which they capture our desires and sorrows, our desperate measures and attempts at careful measuring. ~Jessica Baran, author of Equivalents