Review of Lorette C. Luzajic’s Pretty Time Machine, by Joan Leotta

Pretty Time Machine

By Lorette C. Luzajic

Review by Joan Leotta

Pretty Time Machine is a collection of prose ekphrastic poems inspired by a variety of works of art (and in some cases dual inspiration from art and prose) that allow us to travel with Lorette through actual places and into deeper moments. These poems traverse the paths her relationships with nature, with family, love, success, and loss.

Ekphrastic poems, words that are inspired by a work of art, deepen the relationship between a work of art and viewer by offering pathways to the heart from one’s own view of the art and by allowing us to live the poet’s  interaction as well. Many of the included poems in this collection have been previously published, in revered literary journals such as KYSO Flash, Eunoia Review, Cultural Weekly,  and in this journal, among others. Lorette gave voice to one of the poems in a reading sponsored by this journal. The poem she read, Snow Men is after Pennsylvania Station Excavation, George Bellows, 1908 art by Camille Paglia

The poem is both a clever mix of images in the painting with the writer’s own struggle to wakefulness on a cold morning: “The day after the deep freeze, you break loose from the tyranny of tangled comforters and thermal pyjamas to plod across the frosty floorboards, fetching a bag of coffee grinds from a mythic kingdom of warm.

She proceeds in a rush of wonderful images that take us farther down the path of insight into the painting, the chill of winter, and our inner selves. She balances the images of coffee, cream, darkness outside, cold outside and warmth inside with homeless folk and playing children and their different views of the cold.

Lorette is a talented visual artist as well as a wonderful writer. Her own work inspires many poems. She is as generous to other artists and writers as she is talented herself, offering contests and publication opportunities, using her journal, (she is publisher and editor) gives a showcase to the many of us who find inspiration in artwork for our poems.  In the interview below, she opens the door into her world for those of us who would like to know this marvelous woman better.

Joan: Please tell us a little about yourself. When did you start to paint? When did you start to write–especially poetry and then ekphrastic poetry?

Lorette: I started writing as soon as I could print and read and have some of my earliest notebooks of poems still on hand! It was an automatic part of me. I was interested in visual art very early as well and started making trips into nearby Toronto around age thirteen to go to the big gallery in the city. I loved poring over art books and documentaries and enjoyed making creative crafts including beadwork, collage, and abstract art, even sculpture, for fun. I was even more interested in art history. As I matured, I studied journalism in hopes of doing something more practical with my writing than poetry. However, I couldn’t hack the stress and competitive nature of news. I was pretty mixed up in those days and thought school could cure me, but it didn’t. In order to cope with the stress after graduation, I began making collages, something I occasionally did for fun.

Joan: When did you see your visual art projects as a career path?

Lorette:I was studying archetypal imagery in my independent art history quest at the time, and learning the Tarot, so I decided to make a whole deck in order to better understand the cards. It was just a personal project, but it turned out so interesting that it sparked something in me. I started making tons of art and ignoring the fact that I now owed a fortune for a degree in a field I wasn’t sure I was capable of. When I staged a show in a friend’s apartment, I sold a couple of pieces and foolishly thought it would be easy to sell art, so my path changed forever. 

Joan: And the writing?

Lorette: It’s natural for me to write poetry about art because art always found its way into anything I wrote. I continued writing, but not in the newsroom. I write a column on Wine and Art and I loved writing about paintings and the lives of the artists. I became really interested in reading ekphrastic poetry to see how others approached a painting. As I started writing more ekphrastic poetry myself, I got hooked on the best of both worlds, both sides of myself colliding and merging. 

Joan: What appeals to you about the prose form of poetry?

Lorette: I was surprised by the joy of prose poetry because for as long as I can remember, one of the things I loved most about poetry was the arrangement of space on the page. I love leafing through books of poems just to see how the letters sprawl on the page with the spaces around them. It’s a profound aesthetic experience that gives so much to poetry, and it just isn’t the same when looking at the arranged text in a novel or essay. It’s an extra pleasure, you could say, above the words and their meanings.

And yet right now I am hooked on writing prose poems and don’t seem to want to write any other kind, at least for now! I love the aspect of storytelling in the poem, like in blues or country and western music. I like the restriction and restraint and the challenge to have to make a paragraph poetic. And I think it’s about that feeling that what’s missing from a lot of prose is the poetry, and putting that back in.

Joan: From your perspective, how does a prose poem differ from a piece of flash fiction? As a side note, I find that you use paragraphs the way some use lines, or even stanzas—each word carefully inserted, taking us on a trip through the various layers of the poem.

Lorette: It’s elusive, the difference. I will say “nothing” and that it is up to the writer to decide, or the reader, ultimately. I don’t mind at all if my prose poems are seen as flash fiction. Because I love the short form of flash so much, I was reading tons of it and reading from a lot of journals that focus on flash.

I have to say I was disappointed more often than not because of the lack of poetry in flash stories. A lot of flash journals say they have a preference for a complete plot, following the literary graph of story, over vignette or study, and so many of my open ended and vague vignette pieces were left in the dark. I sometimes found myself bored reading the stories that worked for these places, they felt dry and pat, and I wanted more mystery, more focus on words and emotions.

I decided to keep writing what I felt was missing, what appealed to me personally. What drew me most were the stories that were sometimes called prose poems, and then I started reading through anthologies of prose poetry and gravitating to the prose poems of poets I loved or the more poetic stories of fiction writers. I believe there is a lot of crossover. In the past, before flash fiction was a genre, if a writer wrote a story that was one paragraph long, they possibly called it a poem and included it in their poetry collections to make a place for it. 

If “poetry” is the difference, between flash prose and a prose poem, what is poetry? The slippery quality you can’t quite express or define has always been what poetry is about. Mystery, contemplation, the beauty of words. You can see poetry in art, in nature, in long novels and short stories, in photography, in faith, in love. The definition is always changing- once poetry meant rhythm and rhyme. 

For me, I don’t mind if someone wants to experience my prose poems as short fictions, because they are that, too. But I hope some of them contain that mystery and that stab of language that could also make them poems.

Joan: Many of the poems in the book deal with your own experiences and relationships.

Do you find writing about good times to be a way of extending the joy? Do you find writing about the awful to be a way of exorcising demons, healing yourself?

Lorette: A lot of the topics in this book I believed I wouldn’t talk about again. Not in the sense of shame or keeping things hidden but in the sense that I have already talked about them and there are many things more relevant. I mostly want to focus on different aspects of my life, not on tragedy or trauma or mistakes. These are demons I’ve already exorcised; you might say.

But more metamorphosis seemed to take place between the dual events of the illness and death of my father and the birth of my friend’s child. It was like seeing everything clearly suddenly, rather than “through a glass darkly.” The meaning of life, the magic in the pain of life and death. The memories that these events stirred up, old grief and the wounds of family drama and love, seemed relevant again. When my dad got sick, I was so afraid I might lose it and lose the stability I had found. I worried that I would come undone again and lose everything, that I might freak out and lose my ground. I am lucky to have good friends and the one who is a monk said something simple but life changing. “Don’t assume you can’t handle it,” he said, and it was a magic wand. I decided then and there that no matter what, I WOULD handle it. I wrote my way through and kept looking hard at all the beauty like the new life in my life, too.

Joan: When did you start the Magazine?

Lorette: I started The Ekphrastic Review in 2015 to indulge my two favorite subjects in one place. I hadn’t expected the response, that there were so many people writing poetry to art. It’s something I run largely on my own, a workload I never anticipated when I thought an ekphrastic blog would be a nice hobby!

I have a volunteer committee to help select nominees for prizes and occasional guest editors, who are contributors, who sometimes help with the challenges. They bring a different circle of reader and writers and that helps the writers on the site get more eyes on their work. The challenges are curated prompt every other week that lots of us write to. A selection of entries is published each time, and it’s always interesting to see the different takes on a single artwork. 

Thank you, Lorette!

The book, Pretty Time Machine, is infused with these elements and well represents both her love of words and her love of visual creation.  For example, she has often said that one of her primary artistic inspirations/influences is Freida Kahlo—the colors, the energy of her work and the glory of Mexico. In the poems that deal with Kahlo and Mexico, we feel the sense of the living Frieda through Lorette’s work and note how those themes send us into the poet’s own thematic considerations.

This collection of poems provides both a refuge from the world, a shield against the dark places she has suffered through and healed from through the power of her words, and a conqueror’s sword to enable us to slash through the detritus of  our own lives to reach beyond what we know and step confidently into other worlds, bathing ourselves in the power of her images to see the light on the other side of any darkness we may be experiencing.

Lorette Luzajic has trusted her inner self to readers in a tour de force of words that reveals, heals, and leaves us wanting more—yes after 200 plus pages, and feeling the better for having experienced the excellence of her written work.

Joan Leotta plays with words on page and stage as writer and story performer. Her poetry, short stories, and essays appear or are forthcoming in North Carolina Literary Review, Red Wolf, A Quiet Courage, A-3 Review, Writing in a Woman’s Voice, Silver Birch, The Ekphrastic Review, Anti-Heroin Chic, and others all over the globe. Joan’s first poetry chapbook, Languid Lusciousness with Lemon, is out from Finishing Line Press. She has been a Gilbert Chappelle fellow for NC writers and a featured performer for the North Carolina Story Guild. Her writing and performances celebrate the value of the seemingly ordinary moment, and the joy of food, family, and friends.

Lorette C. Luzajic is an award-winning mixed media artist whose collage paintings have been shown in galleries, museums, restaurants, nightclubs, banks, cafes, hotels, laundromats, billboards, reality TV, a magazine ad, and more. Her work has been collected at home in Canada, and in at least 25 countries around the world. 

Lorette is also a widely-published writer whose poetry and prose has appeared in several hundred literary journals in print and online and more than a dozen anthologies. She has been thrice nominated for the Pushcart Prize and twice for Best of the Net, one making it to the finalists. She has written five collections of poetry, two of them entirely ekphrastic, meaning poems responding to visual art. She is the founder and editor of 
The Ekphrastic Review, a journal devoted entirely to creative writing inspired by art.

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