review by Marya Fiamengo, CVII
At her best Carolyn Zonailo writes
with a clear, clean polish. "False Passage" and "The
Dreamkeeper" are substantial achievements. She combines with
convincing exactitude the lyric movement, the cadence of voice,
with a precise and documentary eye for detail. At her least successful
she leans toward the clinical, and cerebral abstraction. Poetry
among other things celebrates being. Carolyn Zonailo celebrates
and explores the psychic, spiritual and physical dimensions of
being woman. In this she shows a tensile strength and commendable
perception. Her erotic poems are frank, rich, sensual. They are
explicit, without vulgarity, only occasionally flawed by the over
indulgence inevitable in the genre. Erotic poetry unless redeemed
by extra-ordinary intensity of feeling always runs the risk inherent
in the strip tease, where no matter how consummate the art, one
is in the end confronted with mere flesh.
The true strength of Split
Rock lies in the poet's painstaking exploration of psychic
realities, her feminine perceptions of the inter-relatedness of
mind and matter. A number of poems in Split Rock speak
of nature as spirit, or of spirit immanent in nature. "The
Dreamkeeper" is one such poem, and section V is
a distillation of one such perception where, "all gardens
grow forever/ in this garden made of stone". The poet-persona
turns to rock because it is "ancient", offers no "promise";
sets about to explore paradox, duality: man-woman, mind-matter,
nature-spirit. In the end she longs to be free of it all, released
into some primal unity, pure essence,
from the mountain, I walk
naked into a morning light
where there are no dreams.
It is significant that the poet-persona
longs for a morning without dreams, to be stripped to essence,
pure conception, a state of being the delinquent male chauvinist
mind has claimed over the centuries that woman, being an ally
of matter or nature, is incapable of achieving.
Elements of the journey and the
search inform many of the poems in Split Rock. The opening
poem, "False Passage", is a challenge. The reader is
asked to sift and probe a triple weave of motif: legend, folk-lore,
local history. The motifs centre on three islands, three people,
three personae: princess, drowned boy, murdered man. It begins
with the land, opens in undergrowth, strikes the man/woman duality
note: "In this undergrowth/ a man can go to work./ I'm caged
inside, in / a domestic lair,/ land inaccessible." It ends
with a palinode, a song repeated, a song heavy with documented
detail: omens, log-entries, journals, boats, fish. A sense of
flux, of ebb and tidal flow, the rhythm of life itself, dominates.
is somewhere in the sky
turning its phases
from scythe to chalice.
The new moon, cyclical, regenerative,
turns from scythe to chalice, from death-despair-negation to hope-nourishment-renewal.
The arresting blend of the documentary
and the lyrical, a salient characteristic of Canadian poetry,
is the distinguishing element of Carolyn Zonailo's poetic style.
For example, from "The Dreamkeeper":
along the coast, throw
bait into the ocean
to fish for salmon,
hook the fleshy mouth
like my own quilt.
It is gratifying to observe the
native style so spontaneously, and so unselfconsciously present
in the work of a younger poet of unquestionable talent.
Copyright by Marya Fiamengo: www.carolynzonailo.com,