Not Everything Can Be Tamed: an interview with Lorette C. Luzajic, editor of The Ekphrastic Review
Updated: Dec 24, 2019
Lorette C. Luzajic is a Toronto based artist, writer, and editor. Her review focuses solely on writing inspired by art and accepts submissions during alternating months beginning in January. With a passion for art history and poetry, combined with a Bachelor of Applied Arts in Journalism and a driving force to create, Luzajic has a knack for finding “love and death…the sacred and inane…the absurdity and beauty in all things.” She is a well-versed explorer of rabbit holes and the human imagination, and she invites the curious along to discover their own adventures without end.
Broadkill Review: The Ekphrastic Review just celebrated its fourth year of publication in July. What drove you start it?
Lorette C. Luzajic: I’m a visual artist and I’ve been writing since I could read as well. I wanted to create a place for more poetry in my life, not just my overstocked bookshelves but connected to the world in a meaningful way. I’m also passionate about art history and though I feel edified as an introvert going to galleries and experiencing art solo, it seemed like I could connect these dots out there on social media, where perhaps others of like mind would stumble. Writing about art and using art to inspire and expand my own poetry was essential to my imagination, and I thought ekphrastic writing was a good niche that brought these things together. Understand that I didn’t have any intention of becoming The Ekphrastic Review. Originally my site was called “Ekphrastic: writing on art and art on writing” and was a smattering of blog posts collecting ekphrastic poems together for my own enjoyment. I thought I’d put it out there for anyone who wanted to add their ekphrastic work, see what I would get. I had no idea there were so many people doing this, and suddenly I was in a position where I had to turn my hobby into something more structured. I was meeting amazing poets from all over the world, and together we have created this beautiful thing.
BKR: The word “ekphrasis” in the Greek means description, but ekphrastic writing is so much more than that. More than analogy, more than mimesis, more than transferring or translating from one artistic medium to another. Can you speak to the “more” of ekphrasis?
LCL: We have to understand the context of things to see the big picture. We are so lucky today to have social media and technology, but once upon a time, if you saw an artifact or painting, your colleagues would not see it. You would describe it for them as best you could. You wouldn’t even have a picture of your mother to keep after she was gone. So the fact that old writing is so descriptive makes more sense in this context. We have a frame of reference today to most objects and artworks and what cities or people look like somewhere else. So ekphrasis wasn’t meant to be limiting, it existed to go beyond the limits of the day.
That said, I’m not much of a literalist, and my own loose definition of ekphrastic is “writing inspired by art.” While some writers have their own preferences, I don’t think the poem necessarily has to even have anything to do with the painting in a recognizable sense. It might talk about the story of the art or artist, but it might ignite a memory or trigger invention independent of the intention of the artwork. The more for me is the expansion of the human imagination and our writing through the imagination and depiction of another human. They may be related more intimately, but it might just be a spark.
BKR: Oftentimes, writers are driven by obsessions and compulsions. They are likely to be inspired by visual artists who speak to these forces, making ekphrastic writing a cathartic avenue for them. What are some compulsions you would advise writers to resist when diving into ekphrasis for the first time? Alternately what are some compulsions you’d advise them to embrace?
LCL: We can make great use of our thirst for drama and gossip through art and through writing. That’s what all the arts are, when you think of it, big dramas about jealousy and forbidden love and grief and vengeful gods and obstacles for the common man. Opera, ballet, literature- we thrive on these kinds of stories. When it comes to art, we naturally romanticize the notion of eccentricity or tragedy or being a misfit or misunderstood. In this belief, we see artists are tormented, larger than life, they are alcoholics, they have tragic lovers, they are extra sensitive. In other words, our own stories are reflected there, in a kind of exaggeration. Writers can make great use of this curiosity. I encourage contemplation of the image, and research on its background and the artist. This is a rabbit hole of adventures without end. A person who discovers the labyrinth of history, psychology, drama, love stories, tragedies, and so on inherent in art history will never again be bored and will never again run out things to write about. Every picture on a museum wall or in a book is just a layer on a whole world. Each picture is part of the puzzle of how the world is put together, and what people saw, did, and thought. So our natural curious bent, and the natural compulsions we have to dig into people’s dramas and their business is played out perfectly in art and literature. Excavate to your heart’s content, because many remarkable things will be revealed.
BKR: What is the biggest surprise about the submissions that come across your desk, and what do you wish you’d see more?
LCL: The biggest surprise is the quality. I’m not sure whether it’s the case that The Ekphrastic Review just manages to attract quality, or if ekphrastic writing itself produces more quality than other writing methods, or both. But I’m astonished every day by the range and creativity and insight and use of language that I read.
For me, the most important thing about a poem is that it be interesting. I don’t give a damn whether a person is a tortured teenage poet or an English professor in an Ivy League school, but we get great submissions from both of these. I was intimidated at first, to have important, famous, established writers with twelve books and PhDs, hopeful that I would find a place for their poem. I’ve always been a bit rough around the edges and a do-it-yourselfer and it felt uncomfortable to disappoint people who created with such heart and experience. But as I gained experience along the way, I started to understand that the flavour of our platform, quality and creativity without pretentiousness, if you will, was exactly the attraction and draw. Readers and writers are all interested in the central tenets of our niche: how to look at art, and what can that bring out of our writing?
BKR: Your review publishes more than ekphrastic poetry inspired by paintings. Readers will find fiction and creative non-fiction as well as works inspired by sculpture, family photos, music, film, and architecture. Though you state, “We almost never publish ekphrastic work inspired by other arts like cinema, dance, or music.” Clearly there have been pieces that resonated enough to publish them. There’s even a reverse ekphrasis where the painting, She Stood by M. Santarelli, was inspired by the flash fiction piece She Stood by Michael Buckingham Gray. Is there any genre of writing or art off limits for your review? What moves you to accept a submission stepping outside traditional ekphrasis?
LCL: Originally, we were somewhat open to writing about other arts- cinema, dance, music, etc. We love all forms of creativity, but have been increasingly narrowing our focus to be faithful to our niche as our content and the floods of submissions grow. So that “almost never” disclaimer is a recent addition.
That said, we want to stick within our niche and still expand the creativity that come from that fountain. What is art? What is visual art? If I’m convinced that what we are looking at, and what you have written about, is visual art, we want to share diverse perspectives and inspirations. We get a lot of nature inspired submissions, and I stopped considering those by sheer volume. While God is indeed the greatest artist of all, we could have a whole journal just for poems about the moon or the pond. If Monet painted that pond, okay, we can proceed.
It’s all very subjective and I don’t mind saying that. That’s the reality.
BKR: In your role as editor, you’ve no doubt encountered the debate over whether journals should charge submission fees. There are merits on both sides of the argument when one considers what it costs to run a journal as well as what it costs an author submitting to multiple places. The Ekphrastic Review doesn’t charge submission fees. Its submission page states, “To handle the ever-growing avalanche of submissions, we have carefully weighed our options, including reading fees, soliciting manuscripts instead of reading unsolicited works, membership submissions only, etc. These options could all help provide a solution for us but we don't like any of them, because they limit creativity and democracy.” How then do you manage to keep the review alive?
LCL: I don’t know. I ask myself that every day. I am grateful to have incorporated some guest editors, some social media assistance, and a committee for reading for prize nominations. But it still takes an unbelievable amount of time. I spend at least two hours a day, every day of the month including weekends. Sometimes many more. I have questioned whether this is insanity and whether it is best to close down. The time is on top of, or cuts into, my paid jobs and family life and of course, my own writing. But I love it so much! I don’t know what the solution is. I resolved to be unembarrassed about occasionally asking for money or hawking my own art through the Review. I am thankful to those people who occasionally send a gift. I would love it if we received a flood of gifts- I have a button on site for $1000 gift., and in the unlikely event that ever happens, it will be used towards creating an anthology of our poetry. I would love to get paid and spend more time growing our audience, I would love to pay contributors, I would love to qualify for some grants and advertise the Review. But this is how poetry goes, and I know that. The reward is intangible. The art, the circle of friendship, the global network of writers from the whole world, the chance to share people’s work with others, the chance to share art- I have to find a way to keep on keeping on. It’s not just me, it’s all of us now, who are here.
BKR: You are a visual artist, writer, editor, teacher, entrepreneur, columnist, speaker, philanthropist, influencer, and philosopher. Your projects are voluminous and diverse. You appear to possess time traveling abilities in order to accomplish so much with only 24 hours in a day. How do you divide your time between your pursuits? What dictates the direction of your projects, individually as well as collectively?
LCL: That’s very generous of you but I would refute most of those adjectives. I’m a dabbler and like to try everything, but that doesn’t make it a full-time hat. I can’t help myself is probably the only honest answer. I have to assemble enough hours for the man or entrepreneurial to pay my way, so that forces a certain requisite, out of each of us. But on top of that, I can’t stand to keep my hands off of new opportunities to expand my creativity. If I’m not making art, I feel dead. Aside from that I have to look at art. And I have to write poetry. I have to drink wine. I have to travel. I have to do things I’m afraid of. Sometimes I wake up in a panic over my lack of productivity, then am seized with the absurdity of that - there are several hundred paintings alone in my home and studio. I don’t have a special way of wisely scheduling out my pursuits, but a few tricks I’ve learned are to cross off from the list each day something pressing and looming in deadline, and something I’m dreading or dislike doing. Then everything else feels like gravy.
BKR: Your prose poem “The Phenomenal World” appears in the fall 2019 issue of Black Coffee Review. In it you write, “Everyone is looking for moments like these, small, frail, beautiful connections where the world stops for a second.” The poem contains the thread of deconstructing a moment and finding its magic that is either “so happy or so sad.” Can you talk about this magic and what its power produces?
LCL: We cannot survive if we are convinced that it is meaningless, if we are mere automatons and interchangeable one with another. Life can be very difficult, but both joy and sorrow make us fully human. Even grief is a form of connection. We don’t grieve what we are indifferent to.
I love this quote from Homer Simpson: “Never, Marge! I can't live the buttoned-down life like you. I want it all! The terrifying lows, the dizzying highs, the creamy middles!”
The person who is extra observant and has a rich inner life is the most powerful. They might live the button-down life, they might work for forty years in a factory of coffee shop, they might hardly leave their house at all, like Emily Dickinson, or a monk in a monastery. Others travel the whole world and never see or feel anything, always chasing a high they never realize. It’s a perspective and a revelation, a shift. It’s that red wheelbarrow, those white chickens, upon which so much depends. So much is about noticing, and allowing the feelings, even when they are painful. These details make us rich.
BKR: You’ve written about the “joy of juxtaposition” and “forcing difficult combinations into submission.” How does this speak to your process, practice, and craft as a writer and artist?
LCL: I have always been consumed by contradictions. Not everything can be tamed. Not everything can be reconciled. Not everything can be cured. Not everything has an answer or an explanation or a reason or a resolution.
BKR: In your Wine and Art column for Good Food Revolution, you suggest wine and art pairings. This brings to mind a kind of artistic synesthesia, like smelling colors or seeing music. How do you approach it, and what elements pair a great wine with a great work of art?
LCL: Wine and Art is an intersection of three passions- writing, art, and drinking the nectar of the gods. In truth, any wine goes well with any work of art- we can relax, soften our inhibitions, increase our sensitivity and empathy. A glass of wine will greatly enhance viewing, hence its popularity at receptions and openings. The cynical reason is that drunk people are more likely to part with their money, but we don’t serve wine at H&M or the shoe shop. For the column, the creative challenge of finding parallels in history, mystery, colour, or aesthetic is its own poetry. I seldom have the time I want for these columns, but it is the absolute favourite of my writing tasks.
BKR: One of The Ekphrastic Review’s features is a Bi-weekly ekphrastic writing challenge. You choose the painting, and writers submit their pieces by the deadline. What do you hope to elicit from writers, and what do you hope your readers will take away from reading these diverse pieces inspired by one specific work of art?
LCL: Writers can obviously use any work of art from any book or gallery, anytime. But there is something unique to be discovered on our journey when we use prompts we wouldn’t choose naturally. It coaxes us to examine something we may have missed, to see where something can lead that requires our contemplation, not just our muse. For example, if you are at a gallery, you will gravitate to a particular work over others. This is wonderful. It’s just as interesting when a friend shows you another piece that you weren’t drawn to yourself, and you look more carefully, and find something there. We naturally look closer at pictures we like. There’s real merit in expanding ourselves to examine pictures we don’t like, or that disturb us, or that didn’t catch our attention.
The appeal of the prompts is also seeing what everyone else wrote. An ekphrastic poem is always interesting to read, to see what the poet saw. But when we read five or ten or thirty different takes on one painting, we start to see in so many directions, expand our experiences and our powers of observation just by reading them all.
BKR: You’ve recently formed a prize nomination committee to nominate pieces for Best of the Net, Pushcart Prize, and a new Ekphrastic Review prize yet to be named. What else do you see in the future for The Ekphrastic Review?
LCL: I’m really happy that we have started nominating for prizes. It’s important to me to recognize the work of our writers. I would love to begin publishing ekphrastic collections and anthologies. It seems the natural evolution, but would require some kind of miracle for sure. Still, miracles happen all the time.