Interview with Lorette C. Luzajic by Kyle Laws February 2020
While reading Lorette C. Luzajic’s recently released Pretty Time Machine, ekphrastic prose poems, I wanted to be in the same room with her, drinking a good glass of Argentina Malbec and asking questions. But instead, I kept jumping up to my laptop to search for the works of art that inspired the poems, my phone not large enough to do them justice. Lorette—artist and poet—is also editor of the international journal, The Ekphrastic Review.
Kyle: In “Writer in the Dark,” in the center of the book, you say,
I stopped writing when it hurt too much. When it got too
hard, or required too much focus.
Still, I couldn’t always stop the words from tumbling out of
their own volition, haphazard and scattered, wine soaked,
edged in darkness.
Is that when you start, or started, putting images on canvas? What came first, writing or your mixed media collage paintings? Many of the collages do contain found text.
Lorette: Writing came first. I still have notebooks from the earliest days, with little poems in them. I was far more interested in writing short stories than I was in going to school, and sometimes feigned a flu so I could stay home in bed with a pen and paper. I was hooked on Nancy Drew adventures and loved to join her in her travels into the world at large and into the human psyche. I would invent my own mysterious escapades and treasure hunts. I also had a very morbid imagination from the get-go, and a crushing oversensitivity to everything. That made for a lot of over-wrought poems, which I’m still writing, I suppose.
But the aesthetic sensibility was there, too. I fell in love with poetry when I pulled some thin volumes off the library shelf and was mesmerized by the space around the words on the page.
I wanted to know everything about art, too. The creative world was a form of escapism for me. I felt very cultured, combing through the centuries of art and trying to figure out why artists made what they did. I was more interested in art history than I was in painting but I often made collages inspired by Leonard Cohen poems or song lyrics. The turning point was a happy accident, as Bob Ross would say- I was studying the archetypes of the Tarot and thought the best way to learn would be to make my own deck. I made 78 collage cards, and the process was so rewarding I got hooked on it. They had the same kind of irreverence and curiosity you still see in my work today. I wondered how it might work if I added painting to my cut out juxtapositions. By that time, I had already graduated from journalism school and knew there was no way I could handle such an emotionally and professionally demanding work. I was in a bad state at the time in terms, had attempted school as a means of trying to get my life together. I didn’t yet understand all the dynamics at play or that my lifelong depressions and impulsivity were called “bipolar disorder.” Instinctively, creating both art and poetry were ways of managing and coping with extreme mental health problems. All I knew is that I was driven to make both pictures and poems, even as my life spiraled out of control.
Kyle: And in the development of your writing and art, what made you start The Ekphrastic Review?
Lorette: Looking closer, finding a way into the world of other artists, was therapeutic, revelatory, interesting, and fun. The intersection of art and writing was one way of participating in both passions simultaneously. I became fascinated by that crossroads and in hopes of sharing my love of art history and the ways in which studying art could bring surprise and depth into writing, I started a hobby blog where I thought I’d post occasional ekphrastic finds and see if anyone else out there was interested. I had no real intention of becoming The Ekphrastic Review. I had no idea there was a huge ekphrastic community out there, but it found me quickly. The web site was just called “Ekphrastic” initially, and as I began to receive floods of submissions I realized there was the potential to build an amazing place for ekphrastic literature.
Kyle: In “Way Back When,” you say, “You told me once that the only difference between you and me was that I would love a nightclub that played nothing but Fleetwood Mac and you would hate it.”
What artist would you never tire of seeing on every wall of a museum or gallery? Who could you learn the most from? They may be different artists.
Lorette: I would have a very difficult time narrowing it down to one. In keeping, perhaps, with my nature as simultaneously melancholic and chaotic, I am drawn to the spare and eerie stillness of Vilhelm Hammershoi’s work and to mad, gestural noise like the works of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Antoni Tapies. I would never get tired of Van Gogh. There is so much there. Essentially, he was a poet, with paint. His letters are as moving as his paintings. He was so moved by colour that he spent most of his time writing about it, thinking about it, mixing pigments and experimenting with ways to show the emotions that colours evoked inside of him.
Kyle: I love to examine how books are put together. Starting with “Opening Nocturne” was far better than any preface you could have written. And the epigraph by Francis Bacon preceding the poem was a perfect choice: I lived through the revolutionary Irish movement, Sinn Fein, and the wars, Hiroshima, Hitler, the death camps….And after all that they want me to paint bunches of pink flowers. The poem begins, “I’m afraid of this book. I was afraid to write it, but I didn’t have a say. It was writing itself.” How did you decide what to put in the book, and in what order?
Lorette: Originally, I wanted to collect all the ekphrastic poems I’d written since Aspartame, a previous book of ekphrastic poetry. There were a number of haikus, some lengthy sequences of small poems, and more of the word-dense rambles inspired by works I’d encountered in my travels and my art books. But I had really taken to prose poems in the past few years and felt they didn’t quite fit in any cohesive way with the rest. I wondered what it would be like if I wrote more, and only included those ones in a project. When I decided to focus on creating more work in that vein to eventually fill a small volume, some kind of torrent broke in me. And all kinds of memories and things that were knotted deep inside of me began to wrestle with me. While I am generally quite candid about my history, there also came a point when dwelling on negative themes and experiences felt like the least interesting aspect of identity. Who I was and could become was much bigger than trauma. So at first I tried to avoid the tumble down the rabbit hole of memory.
What happened was the loss of my father. It stirred up all kinds of stuff from the past, other losses, and forced me to confront them. During his illness with kidney cancer, I was afraid that all the fortresses I had built would come crashing down. Recovery from addiction and mental illness is fragile, and I wondered if I would lose it, and lose everything I worked to put together. I didn’t think I could handle the grief ahead, and was so afraid of losing my grip or having a breakdown. The day my father received his diagnosis, I was packing my bags for a contemporary art symposium in North Africa. Things were taking off professionally and I had no idea how I could keep going and continue to partake of the good things of life when the most stable and loving force in my life was disintegrating. I shared my distress with my confidante, or spiritual advisor- an old friend who had made it through some of the same fires, and gone on to become a Buddhist monk. He said something to me that just clicked. “Don’t assume you can’t handle it,” he told me. In that moment, I made the decision to be okay, to face it down. The grief stirred up all kinds of old wounds, but now I was processing them from a whole different mind than ten years before. I let the writing happen from this new place.
In addition to the loss of my father, there was so much that was beautiful taking place. I was building a love relationship, something I had been unwilling or unable to do for a very long time. I was also in love with a friend’s child, and watching her grow made me understand at a very deep level how endings make room for beginnings, that death and new life are constant.
That is how I ordered the poems in the book- they are up and down, here and there, all over- but they end with the truth of hope and life, the child, the pretty time machine. Everything is fleeting, and that makes it precious.
Kyle: All your poems begin with reference to the work of art that inspired it. And many also contain an epigraph. I’m a fan of documentation at the beginning of a poem. I read the title; I read the work of art the poem was conjured from; I read the epigraph. And then there is a deep breath taken as if before I dive into a lake where I cannot see the bottom as you can in a pool. I like that breath, that precipice. In what order do you choose those components? Are the works of art and epigraph ever chosen after the poem is written?
Lorette: I’m always looking at art, and often, something is triggered and I begin jotting down impressions and ideas. Some of these turn into finished pieces. The way that I collect snippets of image and text for a collage is behind the patchwork of inspirations for this book. Everything I do is compounded of ideas from other artists and writers, mixed with my own creation.
Most of the time, the quotes come mid-way or after a poem is finished, when something from my writing triggers a connection to what somebody said. I like to share those lines of poetry or wisdom from another person simply because they show the connection between all of us. It might feel like my experience is unique, and it is, but in fact, almost everyone must face the loss of a beloved parent, or make peace with the past or loss or the complications of their faith. I hope the quotes will point the curious reader into a new or deeper relationship with other writers or artists, or help them discover something new in something familiar. The art always comes first, or else it isn’t ekphrastic, in my mind. But I play fast and loose with the definition, generally speaking. I let art spark something. It might be a journey into the artwork or mind of the artist, or it might have little to do with the work, after all, if the spark takes me into a memory or a fantasy. The art might be integral, or it might just be a springboard.
Kyle: Because I’m attracted to concepts and ideas, I tend to focus on them. Sounds and images in your poems jump up at me as in “Nobody’s Wife,” which begins with a delicious epigraph by Edgar Degas (a very good friend of Mary Cassatt’s), What would I want a wife for? Imagine having someone around who at the end of a grueling day in the studio said: that’s a nice painting, dear.
…Inside me, there is a distracted and
fuzzy flash of old-fashioned fancy, you picking up some pale
and flimsy garment from the floor. Fastening stockings to
Those rarely can be constructed but spill out onto the page directly from the brain. Your moderation between ideas, images and sounds seems to come naturally. Do you contribute that to the diversity in your mediums and the number of poems your read as editor?
Lorette: I’ve always been a voracious consumer of art, poetry, and experiences. I sometimes feel like I’m some kind of machine like a food processor- put all kinds of stuff in, swirl it around, and see what comes out. I make connections between disparate things, compare and contrast, pull at random. One thing triggers another. I’m always observing, taking things in. They come out in my art and my writings. Whether I’m gathering objects for a collage for a tenuous connection like a shape, or deconstructing influences from various cultures in a place I’m sightseeing, the whole world is giant labyrinth. We are all an amalgam of influences, and every single encounter we have spins us toward new ones while taking us away from other possibilities we might have experienced. Everything depends on so much else. We, and our creations and experiences, are endless combinations of what we know, don’t know, who we encounter, what we choose, what we miss.
Kyle: In “Black and Blue” after a poem by Claude Monet, 1880, you have an inventory of color in the painting that flows as naturally as watercolor onto paper.
The beach turned an impossible pink and silver mirror,
resisting for just a few more minutes the shadows
swallowing the day. A coolness spread across the water,
stopping lazily to whisper at my throat and fingertips. I
fumbled in my bag for a shawl, drew it across my shoulders.
I kept on walking.
This same water can turn black, or blaze bright blue in the
sun. In winter it will freeze crystal white and turn into a
glacier for miles. It can be the murky green of old apothecary
bottles, or red and orange to match October on its north-
most shores. But tonight it is baby blue and pink as a ballet
slipper. The night descends softly, light echoing until it’s
gone, moon painted into sky.
There are no pyrotechnics of looking up every exotic name of blue you could find, but a rendering that is natural to someone who works with color every day. I marvel at it. Is Monet a strong influence? Are nighttime poems a strong influence? I have noticed a number of them in the Ekphrastic Challenges.
Lorette: Curiously, Monet is not my favourite painter. I appreciate his tenderness and magical gift of capturing light, but I would grow bored with the prettiness if I didn’t have a million other artworks to study.
Night in poetry, in painting, and as symbolism for the unorthodox, the underworld, the hidden, melancholy, and mysterious, is definitely a recurring inspiration and influence. Who isn’t moved by the darkness? There are so many emotions, so many spiritual and symbolic interpretations of the theme. It is beautiful and terrifying.
Kyle: And finally, how to you keep up with all you do, and travel so extensively also?
Lorette: I don’t know! I don’t have children, and while I lament this in many ways, I know that it comes with a gift of freedom and time that I don’t want to take for granted. I also feel that productivity and participation in life is one way to make up for lost time and a way to defy loss and death. I have a volcanic passion inside of me that makes little sense, but I simply must create and do a million things. I have to constantly explore creativity and see what I can do better or different. I’ll never be satisfied- there is no number of paintings or series or books that will satisfy the urge, there is no slowing down or catching my breath. I am doing a dozen things at a time, and if one ends, I leap into a dozen more. It’s compulsive and exhausting but there is a kind of frantic frenzy inside of me that drives me.
Travel fulfills my infinite longing for the world, stimulates my imagination and inspires me, brings me closer to history and the future, and expands my horizons of art and culture. Basically, when I sell a bigger painting, I impulsively book a trip somewhere. I love traveling alone and I love travelling with my partner- however it happens, I have to see the whole world and everything in it.
Lorette C. Luzajic’s Pretty Time Machine is available at
Kyle Laws is based out of the Arts Alliance Studios Community in Pueblo, CO where she directs Line/Circle: Women Poets in Performance. Her collections include Ride the Pink Horse (Stubborn Mule Press, 2019), Faces of Fishing Creek (Middle Creek Publishing, 2018), This Town: Poems of Correspondence with Jared Smith (Liquid Light Press, 2017), So Bright to Blind (Five Oaks Press, 2015), and Wildwood (Lummox Press, 2014). With eight nominations for a Pushcart Prize, her poems and essays have appeared in magazines and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Germany. She is the editor and publisher of Casa de Cinco Hermanas Press.