The Taste of Giving: New &
Selected Poems, review by Beryl Baigent, Poetry
Carolyn Zonailo's poetry denies closure. She is not concerned
with making explicit statements or tying up loose ends but enacts
the practice of presence in her work. One flows with the tides
in a long poem like "Journey to the Sibyl," while discovering,
as indeed the mythical Sibyl also realizes, that the energy of
every individual and object will be constantly transformed and
never destroyed. In this instant, the Sibyl, who is also the poet's
grandmother, may be "caught/in a net of falling flesh"
but her voice still echoes through the universe as she "opens
her mouth/in bird song."
Images, in Zonailo's latest volume
of new and selected poems, The Taste of Giving, constantly
reverberate in an echo chamber dense with, among other things,
stones, mirrors, and birds. However, in an attempt to enter these
poems one might, momentarily, view the above three images (and
their variants) through a philosophical grid which sees the universe
as an ever-changing whole, processing through the balance of a
female triad-self: body, mind, and spirit.
Employing this concept Zonailo's
stones represent the physical being: woman as Earth, and the permanence
which one might expect from the goddess who has survived two thousand
years of patriarchy, despite dominance, violence, and rape. Eve
is "like a stone in a gold ring," durable, persistently
continuing her daily practices, "and waiting/for her garden
to grow." For even while she "pleases Adam," she
is the one who "converses with angels." The speaker
of "False Passage" gives "birth/to a stone child,"
a "girl-child." The man with whom she associates is
a "stone man" and like the protagonist in a later poem
of that name, appears to be the conscious man who has learned
the female art of communication after "His mouth an oyster/shell
[has been] "pried open."
Under the imposed matrix, mirror
images represent the mind which may reflect only what man exudes
("Looking at the shiny contours/of her face, he sees himself").
Alternatively, if the woman has the courage, she may pass through
(like Alice), discovering herself. Women, we are told, "are
made to fit/into two bodies/As if a mirror might turn/to new vistas/
desiring/ instead to be a window." Zonailo, accordingly,
connects the mirror image to "The Double," the “doppelgänger,"
who is perhaps her child whose features are "left like strands
of hair/on the surface of the mirror," or "the old woman/buried
Water also acts as a mirror image
and when one dives below the surface a transformation can take
place. "The hooked bird disappears underwater;/.... [and]
takes on...human features," then it is up to him/her to "cut
a path.../back to the breathable, blue surface."
Birds, traditionally a symbol of
spirit, are in Zonailo's poems not merely spirit but specifically
the spirit of archetypal woman. Often the bird is trapped in a
house or in a slab of stone which has not yet released its inherent
content. The poet frequently identifies with birds. "I fell
from a feathered nest/and my poem became a flight/wounded in mid
air," and its wings become the words of her poems. In "Sibyl"
we find the "bird-woman building a nest/called love."
This poem brings together the three main images of Zonailo's work
as the woman who was "transformed/into a bird" is also
"the bird/trapped in stone," and sees herself mirrored
in the old woman's face which is "a face fixed in stone."
Generally, under such an analytical
scheme, the bird/soul is the medium of transcendence. This is
where Zonailo's philosophy differs. The "celebrant,"
for this poet, is one who "stands at the altar of Aristotle's
god: thinking, thinking." She will be the individual who
searches for enlightenment by passing through the mirror/water
and diving deep to find the desired "freedom" (106).
Zonailo asks her other self, the
doppelgänger, the mirror image, "where do I end?"
Like the woman who visit her during sleep to pass their gifts,
"stories of struggle and survival," "handed down
from woman to woman," she hands down her gift of poems which
circle around like "scarab rings" to protect us from
evil. In this way this poet will never "end" as her
woman's voice continues to echo the "sound of the singing."
Copyright by Beryl Baigent: www.carolynzonailo.com,