Spells and Signs: A Review of Lorette C. Luzajic’s Pretty Time Machine: ekphrastic prose poems (Mixed Up Media, 2020)
Midway through Lorette C. Luzajic’s new collection, her narrator crows, “Yeah, baby. We made it to middle age” and observes, “I should always have had more respect for plumbers and electricians than I had for addicts and revolutionaries.” By this point in our reading, we realize why. Having outlived many friends, roommates, and relatives, she can congratulate herself on the workaday fact of continuing to exist. “We conflate pain with genius,” Luzajic notes, and become caught up in self-destructive ways of blunting family trauma. Younger, she awakened from OD-ing only to ask if someone could cut her another line. Older, she ruefully notes that she has ten one-month clean tokens from NA and now indulges in nothing stronger than wine. Older still, she revels in mentoring a child, in the daunting task of teaching her to survive. Throughout the collection, we are treated to numerous last words: Hart Crane’s “Goodbye, everybody,” uttered before jumping into the Gulf of Mexico; Joseph Cornell’s virginal lament: “I wish I had not been so reserved.” However, as her ghostly self reminds her, her own last words have yet to be said: “not everything is written already, all stories begin without an ending, even yours.”
In one poem, Luzajic shares that her favorite animal is the camel. An astute reader can recognize the ready metaphor. This is an artist / poet who stockpiles all that she has lived through—the traumas, the deaths, the recoveries, the misses and near-misses, the love-making, the substance abuse, the sensuous appreciations of food, architecture, music and art—for later use. The book itself serves as a sort of camel’s hump, rich and sustaining, each prose poem usually headed by either or both a painting attribution and a quote. The epigraphs come from artists, singers, writers, and philosophers, each evocative enough for meditation. One can read, laptop open, using the website created for the book to access the images that inform the poems. I did additional research, eager to learn more about the featured artists and see more of their work—the paintings of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the curiosity cabinets of Joseph Cornell, and the macabre cadaver art of Joel Peter Witkin among them.
Luzajic’s prose poems lose nothing of poetry’s music for being extensive lists or large blocks of text. In a poem, titled Figment, she speaks to her illusory companion thus: [Y]ou were tiny and jumpy, a rickety rinkydink of a trinket, with sparks coming off your lips and your frenzied hands.” In Bergamot, she muses: “If loss can loom, then it is grief in advance, you note, making note of the uncanny jammy snap on your palate from the shiraz.” In Disappointment, she writes: “I imagined Monet in his mist, shrouded by morning’s last eight. Claude evaporating with the water, pushing pond lilies to the side of the progue with a tender oar, lifting the slimy pads to new light with a lover’s hand.” These poems stand up to being read aloud.
In Pretty Time Machine, we not only travel through the Luzajic’s life, but through space. Her poems take us to Cuba, Peru, Mexico, Brazil, Serbia, Columbia, Spain, Canada, the Holy Land, the U.S. and more. We contemplate questions of ethics and aesthetics, death and what comes after, while never far from the sensual and erotic. It is a hefty collection, bringing together two hundred poems of unsparing stock-taking of herself and others. While perhaps a handful remain too internal for the reader to grasp, a dwelling on a memory or an encounter that stays Luzajic’s alone, the majority hold the reader’s interest and work together as an organic unity. What Luzajic declares in a fellow artist’s studio serves as an apt closing comment on the reading of this book: “You will not forget again these things…You will be remade, and you do not have any say in this.”
Devon Balwit's work can be found here as well as in The Worcester Review, The Cincinnati Review, Borderlands, Tampa Review, Apt (long form issue), Tule Review, Rattle, Sugar House Review, Poetry South, saltfront, and Grist among others. For more, visit her website: https://pelapdx.wixsite.com/devonbalwitpoet