“Chinese Green Tea with
Poet Carolyn Zonailo” Interview with Carolyn Zonailo, by
I wrap a sheet around me/ walk in white on the
I am Pallas Athene/ But the colour of my face betrays me/
In a strange ocean I swim towards the sunset/ beyond the minaret
—Carolyn Zonailo, Zone 5
We discussed Zen, Emily Carr, roses,
how to create a book of poetry and my last love affair. She offered
to lend me a copy of Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume.
Vancouver poet Carolyn Zonailo
says the west coast is a strong influence on her work. The majestic,
400 year-old cedar trees of Goldstream Park on Vancouver Island
once inspired Emily Carr to paint—they inspired Zonailo
to meditate. “Those trees are Zen,” CZ says.
“It’s fascinating to think Europe was in the Middle
Ages when those trees were seedlings.”
CZ’s latest book is Zen
Forest. It contains longer, more introspective poems. It
contrasts with her previous book, Compendium, which was
a collection of brief, lyrical poetry on the theme of erotic love.
“I want my poems to be clear
and simple—but underneath, I want each to contain a deeper
layer of meaning,” Zonailo says.
Where my belly curves
your hand rests.
At this moment
that curve of flesh.
I want the moon,
the moon’s light
illuminating this room.
I want, as well,
of that illumination.
by Carolyn Zonailo
from Compendium, 1985
There is a quality in her work which
makes all her poems hers, but Zonailo’s style does
differ. Compendium is a collection of short, lyrical
poetry; Zone 5 of prose. Each book is an extension of
her poetic exploration and a separate expression.
“The Red Alabaster Heart”
is not Zonailo’s favourite piece of Zen Forest,
but it does reflect her viewpoint on the struggles people face
when striving to create a ‘perfect’ love. “I
think a woman’s image of herself can be solidified during
the deterioration of a relationship,” CZ says.
Zone 5, a poetic journal
of her trip to Greece, her loss of a lover and her new definition
of herself as a woman, illustrates this view.
Zonailo has published several books
as managing editor of Caitlin Press, but she considers herself
a poet, not a publisher. “Creating the books is just a natural
extension of the writing process,” CZ says.
Zonailo says she now wants to reach
a greater Canadian readership with her work—to bring to
them the spiritual landscape of her unique West Coast poetry.
Carolyn Zonailo is the author of
Inside Passage, auto-da-fe, Zone 5,
Split Rock, The Wide Arable Land, A Portrait
of Paradise, Compendium and Zen Forest.
Her books are available through Ariel and Octopus bookstores or
the Caitlin Press.
THE RED ALABASTER HEART
The left side of my heart falls in love
and does not a stop to reconsider.
It is perfect and flawless.
It is steadfast. It is devoted.
It is almost as perfect
as the heart-shaped contours
of this sculpted alabaster heart.
Yes, it is as close to perfect
as anyone could wish.
I will give you my heart
but before you accept it—
there is the wayward right side.
The right side has fortified itself
against the cries of drowning kittens.
It has cried out in pain
and sworn never to love again.
It has pined after forbidden loves,
desired illicit lovers.
It has been fickle and faithful
both at the same time.
It has protested against discrimination.
It has refused to be tamed,
trained or silent.
It came into the world pumping blood
and crying aloud the cries of complaint.
It has not ceased pumping blood or complaining.
It beats for independence.
It beats for freedom.
It beats like a drum
and does not want
to cease from
These two sides of my heart
together form one heart.
They have little in common
but like the two sides of a coin
these two halves cannot be separated.
Consider this: taken in its entirety
my heart is not nearly as perfect
as the red alabaster heart.
by Carolyn Zonailo
from Zen Forest, 1987
||West Vancouver, B.C.
Copyright by Janice Irving and Carolyn Zonailo: www.carolynzonailo.com,