Review: Lorette C. Luzajic’s Poetry Collection, Winter in June

By Roula-Maria Dib

Very few give pulse and timelessness to paintings the way Lorette C. Luzajic does through her ekphrastic poetry. Winter in June is another scintillating collection by the poet and mixed-up media artist, who animates paintings through verse and gives them new lives while she touches them with her own. The surge of images, both in the paintings and in the poems, pays tribute to experience in all states of existence—from that in the world of dreams and thoughts to those in the so-called “real” world.

Her poem, “Disco Nefertiti” (after Amadeo Modigliani), is a deep and playful mix of images: “Her neck grew as long as our friendship”, also honoring memory and friendship through similes that strike in their simplicity and delicateness: “It didn’t matter, nothing did, in that kind of friendship, easy as Sunday morning.”

“Twitter” (after The Twittering Machine by Paul Klee, Switzerland, 1922) is a juxtaposition of two eras, one century apart: a brilliant take on social media through the extended metaphor of the bird. It questions the problem of “brevity” of tweets, which can become a modern version of the witch hunt, a form of massive bullying, for “We want so desperately to publicly separate ourselves from sinners, that we fail to see we have become witch hunters, pointing the same fingers, setting the same fires. a swarm of gossiping birds, a murder of karens”.

“Horoscope” (after The Stroll, by Gertrude Abercrombie) contains stark imagery around the idea that the future is written in the past: “They are wrong when they say you can see the future in the Milky Way – it is everything before us that is still knit by the darkness.” Metaphors depicting the future also show it as a process continuously under construction, through an ever-present: “There’s too much tangled in the done and gone. The now and not yet is a mystery, a story we are still writing.”

“A Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind” (after The Parable of the Blind Leading the Blind, Pieter Bruegel, Netherlands, 1568) is a fascinating look at morality in art and the critique of both the past and the present, where humans of all backgrounds are in constant lookout for a better world and a more civilized perspective, only to find themselves falling into the same pit. In the poem, Bruegel’s painting is removed from the museum, and “And when we overheard a patron expressing how moved she was by the empty wall, we decided to leave it blank with nothing to see. With nothing to look at and nothing to see, it’s a safe space for everyone.”

Like a few dashes of taste, the word “salt” appears several times in the collection, and in her poem, “Salt” (after Untitled (Blue and Grey), Mark Rothko (USA, b. Latvia) 1963), Luzajic rings notes of surrealism and infuses them into the setting, highlighting the archetypal dream reflections (such as the ocean) that remain during our waking state to guide us and form us simultaneously: “The blue will always keep you, it will feed you, it will be your most tender lover.”

Luzajic’s poem, “The Wishing Machine”, after The Magic Circle, by John William Waterhouse (UK) 1886, is a gorgeous depiction of mind states—the dreamy, the sleepy, the magical, the visionary, and the wishful: “You keep the laptop on for blue light, to see the outlines of your world when you stir or shift. There are other small terrors in your treasury of memory, and in bundles you have yet to open.” She plays around the ideas of wishful thinking, wisdom, and psychic connections: “Be careful what you wish for is the oldest lesson in story-time and psych”

Dense, intense, and moving is “A Wrinkle in Time”, after Woman with Checked Shirt Walking with Cane (Bill Traylor, USA, by 1949), in its depiction of physical pain and suffering: “I’m too young to be this old, I whine, but we all are, aren’t we?” only to show the entrance to the soul through the body via the power of a love transferred between gazes: “You wipe a leak from under my one eye, look straight at me”.

Similar in its visceral tones, “Connective Tissue”, after Fernando Botero, creates poetry from scientific jargon and definitions in biology: “It’s beautiful, really, my biology prof said, the collagen, the reticular fibres, the elasticity of it all, the patterns holding the adipose cells together. Like latticework, she told us.”

The poem which gives the collection its name, “Winter in June” (after Profile, Eye and Star, Jean Cocteau, France, by 1963), flows between warm and gelid undertones with the shift in temperatures: “In June, the deep of winter, the moon is eternal and the sun does not rise.” The natural world is also presented as a bricolage of images and sounds: “But you are somewhere else, just for the moment, in the crispy porch frost of a November dusk, melting, Coldplay on repeat, tumbling atop those so small hips, crushing them like winter birds.”

Lorette C. Luzajic’s Winter in June, therefore, is a collection incendiary with the deep layers of the feminine voice, invoking memories, flavors, connections, pain, pleasure, beauty, dreams, and meditations. The poet’s ekphrastic prose poems are dredged up with an electric elegance of images and metaphors that add new lives and dimensions to the timeless art they respond to.

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