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Interviews | Interviews | Ronald Stewart

“Zonailo’s Art Imitates Life—Almost” Interview with Carolyn Zonailo, by Ronald Stewart


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
white, round.

Sucked onto rock
I explore

love, the one hinge
securing this flesh

this fastening.

by Carolyn Zonailo
from Compendium

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 actual absence.


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
I know.

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,

to discover
the naked branch

arranged just so.

by Carolyn Zonailo
from Compendium

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.

  The Ubyssey
February 27, 1987

Copyright by Ronald Stewart and Carolyn Zonailo:, 2004. | Interviews | Ronald Stewart
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I give my soul to God.
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I give my spirit to tolerance.
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Photo Gallery
CZPictures of CZ from her 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
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Spanning the years 1955 to 2005, the Carolyn Zonailo Papers holds, as nearly as possible, a currently complete collection of Zonailo's extant literary papers.
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