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MacQueen’s Quinterly: Knock-your-socks-off Art and Literature
Issue 9: 15 August 2021
Commentary: 1,974 words
Footnotes: 337 words
Compiled by Clare MacQueen

Two Must-Read Books
by the Queen of Ekphrasis

 
Mixed Up Media
Cover of Winter in June, by Lorette C. Luzajic
2021

Mixed Up Media
Cover of Pretty Time Machine, by Lorette C. Luzajic
2020

These sumptuous collections of ekphrastic writing by Lorette C. Luzajic, Winter in June (with 108 pieces) and Pretty Time Machine (with 110), were inspired by memories real and imagined, dreams, travels, music, architecture, religion, food, drink, illness, love and loss, grief, transformation—and, of course, by visual artworks, more than 200 of them: from Monet and Magritte to Kahlo and O’Keeffe, from Picasso and Rodin to Schiele and Warhol, from Saunders and Santucci to Luzajic’s mixed-media collages, and much more.

Each book includes a web address for the gallery of related art. Perusing the corresponding stand-alone artwork along with each poem or story is optional, though doing so can certainly enrich and enhance the reading experience. In any case, the written pieces stand well on their own, works of art in themselves.


I am driven by eclectic curiosity, and by the joy of juxtaposition. My work is a curiosity cabinet and an apothecary of magic potions and spells. It is poetry, and a surreal dream. It is the frantic pace of the city and the magnificent silence of the night. It is about love and death and the sacred and inane, and the absurdity and beauty in all things.
—Lorette C. Luzajic[1]

Her work is all that and more. It’s phenomenal. And the author herself is a magician, one might say, a Maestra of mixed media. Quite simply, I think Lorette C. Luzajic is amazing, an artistic powerhouse with apparently infinite reservoirs of creative energy. She is driven by “a volcanic passion” to create.[2]

Seems wondrous that one person is so accomplished:

  • Award-winning, Toronto-based visual artist whose mixed-media collages are internationally collected (30 countries and counting).

    Her art is infused with elements appropriated from advertising, art history, culture, fiction, music, poetry, religion, and travel. As her website says, she plunders everything but creates work that is original and entirely her own.

  • Prolific and widely published writer whose poetry, fiction, and nonfiction appear in hundreds of journals and magazines, and more than a dozen anthologies.

    Her work has been nominated multiple times for Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize, and her Pushcart-nominated flash story “The Paper Dark” appears in the notable anthology, The Group of Seven Reimagined: Contemporary Stories Inspired by Historic Canadian Paintings.

  • Author of two dozen books, among them five collections of poetry: The Astronaut’s Wife (2006), Solace (2011), The Lords of George Street (2016), Aspartame (2016), and Salt (2021);

    two sizable collections of ekphrastic prose poems and small stories: Pretty Time Machine (2020) and Winter in June (2021);

    half a dozen nonfiction books, including Kilodney Does Shakespeare (2012) and three essay collections about fascinating artists, people, and writers (2011, 2012, 2014);

    five collections comprising hundreds of her photographs, collages, and mixed-media artworks; and

    two collaborations which include her visual art: Risk Being/Complicated: Poems by Devon Balwit, Inspired by the Collage Art of Lorette C. Luzajic (2018); and The Luzajic Variations, a chapbook by poet Bill Waters (2017).

  • Epicure (see her “Wine and Art” column in Good Food Revolution).[3]

  • Educator who teaches workshops on ekphrastic writing and on mixed-media art.

  • Editor and publisher who founded in 2015 The Ekphrastic Review, the flagship journal devoted to ekphrastic writing, i.e., literature inspired by or responding to visual art.

In her review of Winter in June, poet Alarie Tennille writes this about Luzajic:

“I call her the Queen of Ekphrasis, but really she’s overqualified for the title.”[4]

No truer words, to distill an old proverb.


Personal Disclosure

In summer 2016, I first encountered The Ekphrastic Review and Luzajic’s remarkable work therein. You could say I’ve been an adoring subject/fan ever since.

During the ensuing five years, I’ve enjoyed the pleasure, honor, and privilege of publishing nearly two dozen of her prose poems and lyrical fictions, and eleven of her mixed-media paintings, across multiple issues of KYSO Flash and MacQueen’s Quinterly, including this one (see “Additional Reading” below*).

And I’ve bought and avidly read five of her books, including the pair whose covers are pictured above. They’re gorgeous. And among my most cherished collections of poetry. I bought physical copies, of course—to keep within arm’s reach of my computer. After all, reading (and rereading) onscreen doesn’t quite compare with the tactile delights of holding these books in your hands.


“Utterly drenched in duende

Luzajic’s poetic prose in particular is mesmerizing to me and resonates deeply, especially on an intuitive and visceral level. My brain seems wired to experience literature and art and Life more emotively than rationally. In turn, it’s challenging for me to write critically about the works of favorite authors like Luzajic, to find any faults beyond a myriad of merits.

Happy to say, my online research shows that other folks have written more balanced evaluations of this exceptional artist’s work than I might have, while still showering that work with superlatives that it so richly deserves.

Among the accolades and endorsements, I serendipitously found a fascinating analysis by popular-culture curator Donald Brackett, which opens:

...El duende is the spirit of evocation. It comes from inside as a physical/emotional response to art. It is what gives you chills, makes you smile or cry as a bodily reaction to an artistic performance that is particularly expressive.... The works of Lorette Luzajic, like those of Lorca himself, are utterly drenched in duende....[5]

In the first paragraph, Brackett also quotes from a statement by Lorca about the arrival of duende, which the Spanish poet described as “produc[ing] an almost religious enthusiasm.”

And in the second paragraph, Brackett notes,

The Ekphrastic Review...is, as the title suggests, a poetry journal devoted to just this species of emotional reaction to visual stimulus.”

Amen, and bingo! He articulates a primary factor underlying the huge appeal of Luzajic’s literary journal and her ekphrastic writing—for me, and for many other folks I would imagine.

By the way, I highly recommend reading this fine review of Pretty Time Machine in its entirety, in part for Brackett’s description of the backstory to Luzajic’s “Shallow Lake,” a prose poem in response to Magritte’s painting Decalcomania.

And more-so for Brackett’s discussion of one of his favorites—“one of her best I believe”—Luzajic’s magnificent prose poem “The Encyclopedia of Obscure Shadows,” after The Dead Toreador by Edouard Manet:

The title of this piece alone is worthy of the great Fernando Pessoa, and it reminds me of what I enjoy so much about this kind of prose poem, a spirit also found in the raw and beautiful works of Robert Walser, Franz Kafka, Samuel Beckett, Elias Canetti, and certain short works by Robert Musil.... It is beyond mere exactitude and borders on sheer metaphysical bliss, it is trembling and shimmering, barely able to be sustained by the language on the page....[5]

The Queen of Collage

Luzajic is a master at evoking emotions and sensory impressions, not only through a range of media like paint, pastels, and pencil crayons (among dozens of others), but also via the colors and music of figurative language. A few lovely examples of the latter, from Winter in June:

“all dazzle and dangle, all shimmering ribbons and spangles” and “jetsam and jangle” (page 15: “Benedict and the Pomelo”)
“Blue is aching bright over the orchards, with handfuls of cellophane clouds close enough to touch” (page 38: “The Garden”; among my favorite pieces in the book)
“The air is full of saw dust and skunk and Jonamac must and the sugar of warm raspberries.” (page 60: “Barn”)
“Branwenn was a barely contained meteor, electric, neon, buzzing and sparking under all that funerary frippery she was buried in. All black in blazing colours.” (page 130: “The Neon Raven”)
“The ice is in the air, a swirl of crushed sapphires and black diamonds, brutal against your face.” (page 143: “Drowned World”)

I could happily devour writing like this every day from sunrise to sunset. And both books, Winter in June and Pretty Time Machine, are brimming with this kind of sensuous imagery.

The poet Alarie Tennille, mentioned earlier in this commentary, writes in her review of Pretty Time Machine about an epiphany she had while creating a list of themes she found in the book:

I realized the poems mirror Luzajic’s multimedia collages. They form an artistic juxtaposition of unexpected memories and symbols. Surprise! Surprise again!...[6]

The unexpected, yes. Another delightful aspect of Luzajic’s poems and stories and artworks.

The relentless drive to experiment through the years, to invent, to combine and recombine and juxtapose during the process of creating hundreds of mixed-media paintings also influences Luzajic’s writing. As she described in an interview last year:

In the same way I work to create titles or collage pieces for my visual artwork, song lyrics or snippets of dialogue can become elements of my poetry. ...I compile bits and pieces of imagery, text, and concepts from other creators and juxtapose them to form something new. This habit spills over into my writing, too.[7]

Just a few days ago, I stumbled across a small example: This marvelous prose poem from Winter in June includes a snippet,“dust and disarray,” which also appears in the lyrics of “The Fire Inside” by Bob Seger.

Our Daily Bread
after Tarde de Verano, Jose Basso (Chile) contemporary
The prairies are inside you, you are covered in dust and disarray, in clouds so close they are kissing the hay. The mares are tough and determined, like you, and resigned to their purpose. Well, I have always been a city mouse, even though I was born of the same bread. I wanted pavement and paintings, I wanted frosty tumblers of patio gin with crushed mint. I wanted red high heels and Barcelona. To each their own, you said, when I invited you to the city. I wanted to show you the museums and the world, but you said the whole world was under the dust right where you were. I was an old woman before I felt that kind of certainty and safety. That sense of where I stood. And if I gave a few portraits and poems to this planet, you gave us hefty, rustic loaves and cold beer. You cajoled the very earth to ignite on our behalf, to feed us.

Of course, poets have been incorporating ideas and phrases and lines from other sources for eons. It’s all part of the artistry. Which brings to mind the essay/confession “Stolen Kisses” by the beloved Steve Kowit, self-proclaimed “all-around, no-good troublemaker” (may he rest in peace).[8]

Researching the histories of appropriation and of collage arts is on my To-Do list for another day, given my need to wrap things up here and launch MacQ-9 to meet today’s deadline. For now, I’m quite content to think of Luzajic as the Queen of Collage.

And maybe even the Empress of Ekphrasis. After all, the whole world truly is her palette![9]


*Additional Reading:

I. Four ekphrastic pieces by Lorette C. Luzajic, here in MacQ-9:

  • Clean, flash fiction from Pretty Time Machine

    (“Clean” is a poignant, compassionate story of love, devastating loss, and grief compounded, which brought this reader to her knees—el duende! My gratitude to Donald Brackett for describing this concept in his review, quoted above, thus adding a new word to my lexicon.)

  • Night Sax in Mexico City, prose poem and collage painting from Winter in June

  • The Glass Swan, prose poem from Pretty Time Machine

  • The Shawarma King, prose poem from Winter in June

II. An enlightening conversation between two poets/editors about ekphrastic writing and Pretty Time Machine in MacQ-2:

[Seven Questions About Process: An Interview With Lorette C. Luzajic] by Jordan Trethewey (March 2020)

Footnotes:

All links below were retrieved in August 2021.

  1. Quoted from Lorette C. Luzajic’s website:
    https://www.mixedupmedia.ca/about.html

  2. From an interview by Kyle Laws in Misfit Magazine (February 2020), in which Luzajic says:

    “...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.”

  3. Beauty in Wine and Art (11 February 2020), one of 40 essays by Lorette C. Luzajic in her column dating back to January 2014 in Good Food Revolution

  4. Alarie Tennille, retired technical editor turned poet and author of two poetry collections, in her review of Winter in June at Amazon (3 August 2021): Writing Born from Art That Stands on Its Own

  5. Donald Brackett, Vancouver-based popular culture journalist and curator who writes about music, art, and films, quoted here from his review in Critics at Large (28 March 2020):
    Past and Present Collide in Poetry from the Future: Lorette C. Luzajic’s Pretty Time Machine

  6. Alarie Tennille, retired technical editor turned poet and author of two poetry collections, in her review of Pretty Time Machine, posted to her blog on 6 February 2020:
    When Art Inspires Words: Ekphrastic Poetry

  7. From [Seven Questions About Process: An Interview With Lorette C. Luzajic] by Jordan Trethewey, in MacQueen’s Quinterly (Issue 2, March 2020)

  8. Steve Kowit, Stolen Kisses, reprinted in Serving House Journal (Issue 12, Spring 2015)

  9. Lorette C. Luzajic, “The whole world is my palette,” from an interview in Treehouse (25 March 2017)
Clare MacQueen
Issue 9, August 2021

is founding editor and publisher of MacQueen’s Quinterly and its predecessor literary and arts journal, KYSO Flash. And she served as webmaster and associate editor for Serving House Journal from its inception in January 2010 through its retirement in May 2018, after publishing 18 issues. She is among the co-editors of Steve Kowit: This Unspeakably Marvelous Life (Serving House Books, 2015), and the editor, designer, and publisher of 20 books for her KYSO Flash micro-press.

MacQueen serves on the Senior General Advisory Board for The Best Small Fictions, published by Sonder Press since 2019 (and by Braddock Avenue Books in 2018 and 2017). For the 2016 edition, published by Queen’s Ferry Press, she served as Assistant Editor, Domestic.

Her reviews appear in KYSO Flash, MacQueen’s Quinterly, and Serving House Journal; her short fiction, essays, and poetry have been published in Firstdraft, Bricolage, New Flash Fiction Review, Serving House Journal, and Skylark, among others; and her essays, anthologized in Best New Writing 2007 and Winter Tales II: Women on the Art of Aging (Serving House Books, 2012).

More on the Web: By, About, and Beyond

“No Succinct Summary Will Do Them Justice”, a review by Clare MacQueen of A Cast-Iron Aeroplane That Can Actually Fly: Commentaries From 80 American Poets on Their Prose Poetry (edited by Peter Johnson); here in MacQ (Issue 2, March 2020)

(Although her review is 99% positive, MacQueen points out that the book seems to under-represent women prose poets. And she names Lorette C. Luzajic as one of four women whose works she believes also belong in a definitive collection like this one.)

The Fortune You Seek Lies in a Different Cookie, in New Flash Fiction Review (Issue 10, January 2018)

Tasting the New, a favorite small fiction from MacQueen’s writings, in Serving House Journal (Issue 1, Spring 2010)

 
 
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