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Reviews | Reviews | Kathy Tyler

Split Rock, review by Kathy Tyler, Germination

     Split Rock, by Carolyn Zonailo, a B.C. poet born in 1947, is the subtle, profound exploration of a universal theme, expressed by cohesive symbols, some archetypal, some ingeniously invented by Zonailo. She is indelibly a West Coast poet with her concern for roots and natural symbolism, which she uses to delve deeply into the primal scream of history.

     The long elegy, "False Passage" for Eric Ivan Berg, opens the book. It illustrates Zonailo's deftness as a mythmaker, and sets out the modus operandi of the collection. Zonailo explores perhaps what is the deepest mystery of all, the primal relationship between male and female. The succession of poems that follow is an ever-deepening progression toward that end, and, ultimately, offers a clue as to what the female's basic nature is.

     "The Dreamkeeper," a poem in ten parts (and the last poem in the book), best represents Zonailo's concerns in Split Rock. The setting is a dry garden, the kare sansui, where nothing grows. In her preface to the poem, Zonailo says that its barrenness "enables us to grasp the intrinsic meaning of nature, which might otherwise be hidden from us."

     In the first section I, a wolf, symbolizing the male, appears. Its significance, however, is ambiguous: who is predator, who prey?

The wolf tonight, because
I don't understand my own
bleeding, your nightly fear

the blood between us
might be yours….

     Love's absence is the subject of II. Zonailo cries out that too many women have loved in a world where they are out of tune: "Even the destruction/ of war isn't mine." In III, she laments: "Our stone longing/ to carve the timeless/ images earth has. Nature/ the only subject we share." V describes the archetypal garden: "all gardens grow forever/ in this garden made of stone."

     In VII and VIII, the wolf reappears and his nature as predator is revealed. The female is now clearly as the nurturer, and the poet states the object of her desert search:

If I meet the wolf in
daylight, I will recognize
the teats lining her underbelly,
black nipples pulled long
from nursing. Her mate

circles my night dreams.

Somewhere on the mountain
I can find the pool of blood,
the buried placenta
from the she-wolf's whelping.

     The poem ends as it begins, ambiguously, seeming to suggest an androgynous conception of self:

Here is the wolf's carcass:
I taste her milk, suck

blood from her nipples.

The snake I wanted to kill
begins to love me….

. . . . .

...When I descend

from the mountain, I walk
naked into a morning light

where there are no dreams.

     If occasionally Zonailo seems to stray from her preordained path (or onto a puzzling course) the quest she describes in Split Rock demonstrates her considerable gift for symbolic expression.

Copyright by Kathy Tyler:, 2004. | Reviews | Kathy Tyler
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Last Will and Testament
I give my soul to God.
I give my body to the earth.
I give my poems to posterity.
I give my spirit to tolerance.
I give my mind to the future.
Forthcoming Titles
The Land of Motionless ChildhoodThe Land of Motionless Childhood is a memoir of short stories by Carolyn Zonailo about growing up in Vancouver, and her Doukhobor heritage.
Photo Gallery
CZPictures of CZ from her 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s.
Literary Papers
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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