The Wide Arable Land,
broadcast by Ira Nadel, CBC Radio
Gardens and landscape have long
been popular subjects for poetry. Mythically they recall a lost
pastoral world of repose; historically, they represent systems
of order and attitudes to nature. In the Georgics, Virgil
wrote about planting while Shakespeare used the garden in plays
divergent as A Midsummer Night's Dream and The Tempest.
Milton's Garden of Eden is disrupted by the serpent while Marvell's
remains a quiet world "Annihilating all that's made/ To a
green thought in a green shade." Pope, Keats and Tennyson
furthered the image while modern poets like Yeats, Dylan Thomas
and Auden translated the garden into contemporary metaphors. Now
a young Canadian poet, Carolyn Zonailo, joins that tradition in
her new collection entitled The Wide Arable Land. Borrowed
from a letter by Keats, the title refers to the landscape where
"the seed of some trouble"/ is / being planted in a
"wide arable land of events." This theme of joy coexisting
with despair, laughter with disappointment controls Carolyn Zonailo's
Zonailo divides The Wide Arable
Land into six sections, each with a different emphasis and
style. The first is a collection of sixteen tightly written poems
dealing with diverse subjects: love, nature, animals and places.
The writing is controlled and direct, purposeful in its use of
imagery as in these opening stanzas from the poem "Heron":
Here is my fallen angel, the heron
as it lifts awesome grey wings.
In repose a common bird, neck too
too awkward to be beautiful.
In the air the heron's wings span
all known cosmologies.
The wing itself a cosmology,
a fallen angel, beautiful
with a complexity of features,
with the motion of flight.
The transformation from the literal to the spiritual bird is
carefully controlled by the image of the moving wing.
The second and third sections of
The Wide Arable Land deal with poems on single themes.
"Sonnets of Despair" concentrate on harmful situations
and desperate feelings. Desire becomes the "hidden worm"
in one poem and given a new identity:
Call it solitude and deny my heart
its intimate companion.
Call it love, and let it consume.
Smash the mirror! Call the husk!
Strip the snail of its private shell!
Violence and action characterize
these poems as fragmentation replaces wholeness, hurt replaces
comfort. A long, semi-allegorical work, "The Red Camellias",
is another disturbing poem narrating how the sharing of a wound
by two women generates love but also distrust. It mixes medieval
symbolism with feminist goals. Its sub-themes are the artist,
his restlessness and his satisfactions.
"Annunciation, the Angel"
is the difficult fourth section of the book, a mixture of Indian
and Christian myth joined to political and social theory. But
here the burden of the numerous ideas overwhelm the poetic structure
creating confusion. "Ceremonial Dance," the fifth section
extends the treatment of myth through the story of Circe superimposed
on experience in the Queen Charlottes. The direction and discipline
of the writing is clearer in this poem. Thirteen lyrical poems
make up the final long poem of the book, entitled "Journey
to the Sibyl". They link images of the Cumae Sibyl to the
personal experience and private understanding. This passage from
VIII displays the refined style but troubling theme in
into a bird
the bird carved in a piece
a smooth white antler
shaped in a graceful curve
of bird wing
or the bird trapped
the bird beating in me
beating its wings against
my ribs, hollows a circle
The poems in The Wide Arable
Land express a sense of continual searching—a quest
to understand how to live with the past as well the present. But
in the journey to find the Sibyl one finds no salvation, only
a shrill and elusive voice that is unsure of the future and puzzling
about the past. With its divergent styles and irregular forms,
Zonailo's book reflects a similar unsettledness which alternately
provides her with poetic energy and personal despair. Collectively
it demonstrates another statement by Keats: "Circumstances
are like clouds continually gathering and bursting."
Copyright by Ira Nadel: www.carolynzonailo.com,