“Zonailo’s Art Imitates
Life—Almost” Interview with Carolyn Zonailo, by Ronald
He has a stone
in his mouth.
I roll it away
like a rock
in front of a cave,
let the sounds spill out.
His mouth an oyster
shell pried open:
the pearl gleams
Sucked onto rock
love, the one hinge
securing this flesh
by Carolyn Zonailo
RS: Carolyn Zonailo is a poet. She's not well known
outside the B.C. literary circle. Her books don't get broad distribution.
But that doesn't faze her much.
CZ: The real writing goes on in the magazines
and from small presses. Later, the big publishers down East might
put out a glossy edition.
RS: Zonailo sees herself
as a lyric poet, directly related to the romantics and imagists.
She is not interested in the school of poetry which abandoned
the lyric form.
CZ: I'm not really a traditionalist but I don't
think a poem is just language—it uses language in a certain
way, but it's much more than that. I think poetry involves an
aesthetic element, a shape like sculpture; a communicative element—it
has something to say; it's a way of talking about certain knowledge
there's no other way of talking about; and it has a visionary
element. Language isn't the sum total of poetry, just as sex isn't
the sum total of love.
RS: Zonailo's poetry
uses these elements and a great variety of possibilities within
these bounds. Her poems in her most recent book, Compendium,
concentrate on relationships, and have a wry, minimalist style;
those in The Wide Arable Land, and those she is now working
on, tend to be denser, more meditative, and about a broader variety
of subjects. Zonailo tends to draw from four sources for her ideas:
the natural, the sensual and erotic, the mythical, and personal
experience. However, she insists on some distance between her
work and the actual experiences which often inspire it.
CZ: The poem makes a meaning of an event which
that event doesn't always make. The personal life isn't important—it's
how the imagination uses the personal experiences. In my poem
Japan, for instance—no one actually went to Japan. I used
it because of the great distance it conveys. The poem is about
the feeling and experience of absence rather than the event, the
It's like stopping in mid
or wanting to make love,
this need to talk to you.
I'm afraid the plane will
That island farther away
than any Pacific island
Now you're gone
To journey is natural
but this absence
or the one flower
you placed in the vase.
I would have to pick many
flowers, too many to count,
the naked branch
arranged just so.
by Carolyn Zonailo
CZ: Art takes personal experience and distills it, gives
it order and shape. That's why we make art—it gives order
to the randomness and chaos of our lives. It reconciles the chaos
of experience, of our confused and unplanned lives, with the inner
balance and harmony that we need.
RS: Zonailo also sees
herself as a West Coast poet. She includes Pat Lowther, Anne Marriott,
and Pat Lane in this category, and says it involves "a certain
sensibility, use of images and language, and a way of seeing nature—not
a definitive style necessarily."
As part of her activities as a West Coast poet, Zonailo has been
involved in small presses for some time. She was one of the founders
of Caitlin Press; editor of the Heron Press. At the moment, she's
editing a book of B.C. short stories.
CZ: Canada is a small country and all the writers
I know do more than just their own work—they contribute
to the ongoing life of the arts in the country.
RS: Besides working with small presses, Zonailo
does her part by teaching creative writing at Douglas College,
giving readings, and contributing to workshops in the province's
schools. She was also on the founding executives of the Federation
of B.C. Writers and the B.C. Book Prize Committee.
CZ: We started from virtually nothing. B.C.
was very behind in these areas, and very under-funded. Things
aren't as good as they could be, but at least they're alive.
RS: The growing health
of these projects has prompted Zonailo's return to small presses,
which she has not been heavily involved with for the last couple
of years. She's also working on her next book of poetry. "It
should be out later this year," she says. "It will include
a long poem about Vancouver's beaches." Carolyn Zonailo's
next book, Zen Forest, should be available later this year.
February 27, 1987
Copyright by Ronald Stewart and Carolyn Zonailo: www.carolynzonailo.com,