The Taste of Giving: New &
Selected Poems, “The Feminine Consciousness
in Poetry: Four Long Poems by Carolyn Zonailo”, essay
by Stephen Morrissey
Carolyn Zonailo's poetry is fundamentally
different from the work of most other Canadian poets, either male
or female. In Zonailo's The Taste of Giving: New & Selected
Poems the erotic, the mythopoeic, and landscape serve as
vehicles for the expression of the archetypal feminine. Zonailo's
poetry is predominantly an expression of universal consciousness
as revealed in a human being aspiring to be whole and complete.
I will examine four long poems from this book that form a record
of Zonailo's journey to "individuation", to use the
Jungian term for an individual’s growth of self-awareness
and openness to the universal Self.
In a 1982 interview published in
CVII, Zonailo refers to writing "female romantic"
poetry. Zonailo's poetry is more than an expression of female
concerns or even of feminism; her work is more correctly an expression
of the feminine. Indeed, Zonailo's use of mythology and landscape
are in the service of the archetypal in her work. How do we define
the eternal feminine? Robert A. Johnson, a Jungian analyst, discusses
the story of Tristan and Iseult and the birth of romantic love
in his book We, Understanding The Psychology of Romantic Love:
Jung found that the psyche is androgynous: It is made up of
both masculine and feminine components.… The psyche spontaneously
divides itself into complementary opposites and represents them
as a masculine-feminine constellation. It characterizes some
qualities as being "masculine" and certain others
as being "feminine."...It is the feminine qualities
that bring meaning into life: relatedness to other human beings,
the ability to soften power with love, awareness of our inner
feelings and values, respect for our earthly environment, a
delight in earth's beauty, and the introspective quest for inner
Johnson's words can be used to
describe Zonailo's poetry. In Inside Passage (1977) she
writes, "My poem is not me, neither is it separate from me.
I and my poem are related to each other. I do not want to humanize
the world, nor do I want to dissect it. I want to discover my
relationship to it. This might be called a family vision. In that,
it is a survival of all, or nothing." This is what the reader
discovers in Zonailo’s poems: the expression of that which
aims for relatedness, and is constantly moving towards unity and
away from fragmentation. This is a recurring theme in Zonailo's
work, found in all of her books, since she first began to publish
her work in the mid-1970s.
One of the influences on Zonailo's
work is the poetry of John Keats. Keats, in his "Axioms of
Poetry" writes, "...That if poetry comes not as naturally
as the leaves to a tree, it had better not come at all. "Zonailo
writes, again in Inside Passage, "I and my poem
and the tree are related to each other. The tree expresses leaves,
the amphibian expresses fins, the bird its feathers, a stone its
mass…. Poetry does not reflect life, it is a part of living;
it is as natural a function as breathing or blossoming."
Indeed, Keats’s "Ode to Psyche" is fundamental
to understanding Zonailo's work. While Zonailo refers to other
myths, one myth that is central to her work is that of Eros and
Psyche, which is also the subject of Keats's poem. Myth, for Zonailo,
is a way to investigate psychological insights. Myth is alive
with truth in the psychological and spiritual realms. Myth is
traditionally a vehicle for poets, as it is not only condensed
and concise language, but is also a collection of symbols that
communicate simultaneously—at a number of levels of sophistication—eternal
and universal wisdoms.
The best interpretation of the
myth of Eros and Psyche is Erich Neumann's Amor and Psyche:
The Psychic Development of the Feminine. Neumann's important
study of the feminine in psychology is essential reading for anyone
concerned with understanding archetypal psychology. Neumann illuminates
what Zonailo is doing in her work, regarding the erotic and mythopoeic.
One brief quote from Neumann might suffice in asserting the importance
of this myth; Neumann writes:
...it is no accident that analytical psychology defines the
totality of consciousness and the unconsciousness as the "psyche".
This psyche as the whole of the personality must be characterized
in man as well as in woman as feminine, because it experiences
that which transcends the psychic as numinous, as "outside"
and "totally different." For this reason, the mandala
figure, which appears in man and woman as the totality of the
psyche, is feminine in its symbolism as circle and round, or
uroboric as that which contains the opposites.
Zonailo's poetry is a celebration
of unity over fragmentation and relatedness over alienation. Before
I get to a more specific examination of the four long poems from
Zonailo's The Taste of Giving, New & Selected Poems,
I will refer to her essay, "The Idea of Poetry as the Visible
Rainbow", published in Poetry Canada Review in 1987.
Zonailo writes, "When poetry is seen as soul-making, there
are no questions as to whether or not poetry is political, experimental
or profitable.... Poetry is an essential human activity—not
humanistic, but human—part of the condition of being human,
and of having a soul... the collective body of poetry contains
the collective knowledge of our souls." For Zonailo the very
act of writing poetry is to discover one's soul; and the role
of the poet is to identify dualities by recognizing them. Poetry
provides insight: from viewing the world through Psyche, the soul,
we discover our relationship with the world. "Psychological
'insight' ", according to Zonailo, "is not looking inward
but a viewing of the world through the psyche—i.e., looking
at the world with the eyes of your soul.... In that way we can
speak of Vision, where it is possible to see both cause and effect
at the same time, and to see them belonging inescapably together."
The conclusion of Zonailo's essay is of particular importance;
A poetics presided over by Psyche is a poetics in which the
soul is born from the physical, material world. We don't have
to transcend or destroy our mortality to become divine. The
dualities of phenomenon & numen, physical & metaphysical,
reality & dream, necessity & desire stand side by side,
as do Eros and Psyche. The need for a monotheist, monopolizing
"oneness" can be replaced with an acceptance of the
diversity, duality and polymorphous actuality of phenomenal
All of this is particularly fascinating
when studying the archetypal feminine. Zonailo's whole thrust
is towards discovering unity and relatedness, not promoting divisions
and barriers to relationship. These positive qualities are intrinsic
to the feminine. This consciousness is not exclusive to women;
traditionally, and universally, it has often been an expression
of a mystical awareness embodied in Taoism, Buddhism, and the
Christian mystics (including Meister Eckhart, St. Teresa of Avila,
St. John of the Cross, and Brother Lawrence).
Lorelei Cederstrom writes in Fine-tuning
the Feminine Psyche: Jungian Patterns in the Novels of Doris Lessing,
that "feminists have largely abandoned the project of Jungian
or archetypal criticism...While feminism in a political sense
may no longer be a viable form for the discussion of Lessing's
work, the feminine remains the heart of her contribution, for
the archetypal roots of every woman's psyche have never been so
fully expressed as in the novels of Doris Lessing." (203)
This is an important point to make regarding Zonailo's poetry—she
is not overtly political but, as with Doris Lessing, "the
feminine remains the heart of her contribution." Zonailo’s
poetics are essentially life affirming and celebratory. The literary
tradition of lyric and meditative poetry in which Zonailo's work
can be placed extends from Sappho to Emily Dickinson and H.D.,
but it also includes Keats, Stevens, and other poets, regardless
of gender, in the long tradition of lyric poetry from different
eras and cultures.
Zonailo's poetry can be divided
into thematic categories, one of which is female sexuality and
sensuality. This is a poetry of erotic connection, in which eros
is combined with the romantic and ultimate union between individuals.
As such it is a celebration of sexuality from a female perspective.
Zonailo's ongoing poetic discussion of sexuality is non-exploitative—it
is not concerned with the mechanics of experience, but centered
on sexual union as a human expression of love and intimacy.
The feminine consciousness in poetry
is not the same thing as a feminist consciousness—although
the two necessarily overlap. Feminism, as a political and social
movement, originates with Mary Wollstonecraft, J.S. Mill, and
the Woman's Movement at the end of the Nineteenth Century. But
the feminine consciousness is archetypal in origin and therefore
is at once ancient, contemporary, and will extend into the future.
Zonailo is concerned with a similar area of human consciousness
as Doris Lessing: this is the archetypal feminine. Zonailo writes
a poetry of transformation. It is not confessional poetry in which
the poet is endeavoring to discover herself in a personal way,
but rather to develop what Jung called the Self, that part of
the individual that experiences consciousness as universal and
which relates to the collective unconscious. This is poetry in
which the Self unfolds to reveal the multiplicity of its levels
of being. It is a poetry that expresses the ways in which the
feminine consciousness is fundamentally different from a perception
of life that is fragmentary and materialistic. This is not a poetry
of separation or one that encourages a battle between the sexes;
it emphasizes that we're all human beings, whether male or female.
It is a poetics that, although able to incorporate gender, transcends
both masculine and feminine roles.
From Zonailo's The Taste of
Giving, I am singling out four of the long poems as spiritual
pilgrimages. These poems illuminate Zonailo's spiritual quest,
her ongoing poetic exploration of the eternal feminine consciousness.
Where does one begin the psychic journey? What accounts for the
urgency of this journey? Surely it must be a sense of loss, a
feeling that life has become in some essential way meaningless
and without value or purpose. As the poems in this collection
are arranged chronologically, Zonailo's psychic journey begins
with the first of her long poems I have selected to discuss in
this essay, "The Dreamkeeper." Here we find the Garden
myth, the fall from innocence into experience. The "wolf/outside
my window" that stares at the narrator with "yellow
eyes" is the poet's own shadow self, that part of the human
psyche that we either reject, hide from, or project onto someone
else, but which, inevitably, returns to haunt us. In this poem
the reader sees the beginnings of the poet’s transformation.
“The Dreamkeeper” is a nocturnal poem, a poem of the
unconscious mind: "I live/ on the coast, throw/ bait into
the ocean/ to fish for salmon, / hook the fleshy mouth with my
own guilt." Now we know the locale of Zonailo's work: it
is alternately on the edge of or in the unconscious mind, or moving
into the ocean-like depths of the collective unconscious.
At the beginning of "The Dreamkeeper"
Zonailo mentions kare-sansui, a style of symbolic landscape
garden popular in ancient Japan. Here she is writing about arid
gardens, her own work as a poet, and the garden myth. She quotes
from a description of the Zen stone garden: "The intention
is to portray the inner meaning rather than the external appearance."
The dream in this poem is a nightmare vision of existence after
the loss of human love and spiritual experience. Life has become
a wasteland, a desert: "I stood once in/ a blood-red desert/
let the cactus spike/enter my flesh." Love, creativity, spirituality—all
the components that are important to the growth of the inner life—are
now denied; the only purpose that remains is to escape the desert...
"A young woman carries a/ piece of wood in her hand,/ kills
the snake with her stick."