Our lives are infused with more poetry than we may think—recurring memories that unfold like refrains; the analogies we turn to as we struggle to understand a difficult situation; and the hopeful words we utter like a mantra for healing. These are the words we find in Elseplace, the debut collection of poet and educator Laurie Filipelli.
Elseplace is marked by poems that follow each month of the year, from the frozen shores of January to the sweltering heat of August. As we encounter these cyclical images, Filipelli draws us into the shape of human experience: I imagine sometimes life as a spiral—/stiff, tightly wound; and then there are moments/like an unstuck window, a cleansing gust of grief.
Where is Elseplace? It lies in the power of a word, the power of naming. A single word can inspire awe or trigger our deepest fears—a word like “cancer.” However, given the context of a different time and place, the words we associate with suffering can have another side. The poem, Scene from the Female Interior, showcases Filipelli’s ability to invoke the power of wordplay. Here, she brings readers into the world of a woman waiting for an answer. And during this wait, Filipelli transports us to places where “cancer” and “papilloma” escape the cold uncertainty of a diagnostic procedure:
Scene from the Female Interior
A cytologist blinks. How long
has she stared at these scraped worlds?
Papilloma could be a town in Spain
with a citadel, thunder, and small
sweet fruits. Night dabbed
with an iridescent sheen, and cancer
the palest constellation beneath which
cloistered women pray.
Curettage, then, was a French cut dress,
a jeweled neck, not a paper gown,
not a spoon that swiped the brightest star,
a gem unfastened. Flesh from sky.
Who waits now with encrypted hope
for an answer to return her?
In the midst of intense anxiety and longing, Filipelli uses imagination and even subtle hints of humor to free the speaker and, subsequently, the reader from the weight of these life-changing circumstances. Elseplace is a world of musical language that leaves us untethered, free to transcend a painful memory.
Written with emotional range and depth, Filipelli’s collection celebrates the ever-changing seasons of human existence. These are poems that dare to hope, and with the full passing of a year in Elseplace, we find refuge in the quiet stillness of December—the way fog is, the way that dreams snow. –Joanne Mallari