Talking with guest columnist Lorette C. Luzajic about her new poetry book, Solace.
Your first poetry collection was The Astronaut’s Wife: Poems of Eros and Thanatos. Are the themes in Solace a departure from those themes, the themes of love and death?
No. I would venture that love and death, or life and death, are the main themes in most of art and literature, even science and politics and history and cinema. What else is there, really? It’s true that the themes might be more obvious in a poem than in an abstract painting, for example, or a study about dieting. For me, that’s because it really takes an intensity of emotion to break open a poem.
Of course, the theme here is also solace. Grappling with the intransient nature of everything, with the impermanence, with the lack of true security anyone really has- it is within this struggle to wrap our heads around the big picture that we seek solace. But solace is just as intangible and impermanent as anything else. Nothing is forever.
Many of your poems are either very short, or else very long. What factors go into deciding the length of a piece?
There are some regular length pieces, but most of my poems are either candid snapshots that would be spoiled by too much information, or they are more like stories, narratives that span a variety of emotions or incidents. There is never a deciding factor. Sometimes I look at a five page poem and find it disturbingly overwrought and yappy, and I put it away. I might look at it later and find its essence in a few lines, and think to discard all the superfluous words. I decide in certain cases that the reader doesn’t need the whole story, because it is not the whole of the story that is interesting, but a particular part. I get over my attachment and excise. Less is often more. In poetry, you want to have unanswered questions, to revel in open endings, to be stabbed in the heart by two or three beautiful words without resolution.
And those are the same reasons why some poems end up quite lengthy- it’s because of unanswered questions, open endings, a beautiful word or scene. These longer poems are really open ended short stories that were better suited to the fluidity of poetry, its “poetic license” for unresolved endings and emotional intensity. If the story is more personal and less fitting for fictionalizing, it seems like a sacrilege to remove it from the well of my own emotions. Of course truth often inspires fiction, but the characters have to take on a life their own and end up making up their own incidents and endings as you write. When something is deeply personal, that distortion rings hollow. That’s not to say that every word in every poem is “true.” It’s not. But the essence of it, the emotion, is true. If it changes, it is better told another way.
Since your creativity manifests itself in so many different ways, from collage to photography to writing about art or interesting people, how do you know when something inside of you wants to be a poem and not a painting or an essay?
One idea or inspiration can fuel countless modes of expression. For example, my disgust with the lack of freedom that people have, my gratitude to live in a free society fuels, countless essays and blogs. But it also fuelled this year’s unexpected foray into pure compositional abstract mixed-media. I was struck by the thought of: what if I had this much to say, this much to feel, but was censored by evil communist or dictatorship regimes- if I were one of the millions of people who might sit in jail or be tortured or summarily executed in the streets, whether for expressing religious doubt, sexuality, or a political opinion. From these societies, little comes forth because the absolute suppression censors dissent and progress and change. I thought the insides of these people are just as busy and full of thoughts and questions as we are, but there is no freedom to say or express. I started making very busy abstracts that were unreadable, just from the idea of showing the barriers of imagination without a message. It was a very political thought about freedom of expression, but the outcome contains no visible politics at all. And no one has to read the paintings in that way- they are pure abstractions. But that simple idea generated twenty plus pieces, many of which I will be showing in December. The series is called The Sound of Silence. As for poetry, I almost never write any. I want to try working on more poems because I find it so satisfying when a poem “works” and I feel I’ve got it. But my visual imagination is dominating me right now. I am obsessed with shapes and colour, and so I’m taking pictures all the time and working on these abstracts.
What poets do you enjoy?
I like to read poets I’ve never heard of, choosing random collections from the library. I like how poems look, I like the economy of words and the composition of space around them. So there is a real pleasure in opening a volume with no expectations or knowledge of the writer, and just plunging in. Savoring the images. I also think that most poets have a dozen or even a paltry few poems each that are very good- it is not a consistent art, I find, even among the masters. Some might frown at me for saying so out loud, but I think honest poets know that’s true, and readers sure do. (I feel this about my own work, too- the vast majority of poetry doesn’t even get saved in the memento box. It gets crumpled and tossed.) So I enjoy treasure hunting by reading randomly, ferreting out the special bursts of inspiration and raw authenticity in poetic experiences, in great poets and also in those I’ve never heard of before. I also like reading the poetry collections of writers who are not primarily poets, writers who write other kinds of work predominantly. This is one of my favourite ways to read poetry. Louise Erdrich, Barbara Kingsolver, Ray Bradbury- these volumes are some of my treasures. I like contrasts, too- I like William Carlos Williams’ sparcity; I love the tumbling rapids of language in Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Any plans for more poetry?
I was planning on wrapping up the poetry channel of my creative impulse, for now, since I have so many branches on the go and I always feel pulled in so many directions. I long to focus harder on a few things at a time. But one of the poems that I wanted to include in this collection got left out. It just wasn’t finished, it didn’t feel right. It’s a piece I feel really close to, a piece that I feel is one of my best works of art. So I’ll be working on it until it’s right, and that means the juices of poetry will sometimes be on and I’ll end up working on other unfinished and new pieces. So yes, there will be, but likely not for another few years. This is how things get decided for me, a mixture of the random and the planned. But the next thing on my list is some short fiction, which will be my first major fiction offering. I write a lot of short stories but almost all of my public work has been nonfiction. This will be available soon. There will also be a collection of images coming up. The fountain never runs dry. Sometimes I actually wish it would so I could catch my breath.