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Reviews | Reviews | Lavinia Inbar

Zen Forest, review by Lavinia Inbar, Poetry Canada Review

     Carolyn Zonailo's Zen Forest is a densely packed collection of poems about spiritual experience. The experience of death is one of the central concerns. In "A Question Of Faith," the "fear of dying" is dealt with defiantly:

If the world must end
let it end
with me in your arms
held in this willing embrace
that defies
at least momentarily
the final explosion.

There is also a kind of defiance in "A Secular Ishmael's Elegy" which tells of the "sudden and violent deaths" of three poets:

The poems from their youth
will continue to speak against tyranny
for tyranny, in any form, is a mimic of death.

However, in "Woman Walking Dog" there is the glimmer of a more spiritual and less emotional experience of death:

And her search for a way to face death
with grace, to go alone
into that darkness
is an act beyond contemplation.
Martha's courage, sure as grace,
shines as a light on the unknown

     The middle section of Zen Forest is full of superstitious invocations against suffering and death such as: "A sooth for the evil-eye," "Charm to ward off the grim reaper," and "Chant to give comfort in extreme pain." While most of the chants and spells are a fearful and emotional response, they still represent a spiritual searching as much as do the courageous and dignified actions of the "Woman Walking Dog."

     It is the final third of the book which contains aspects of Zen as is suggested in its title. In "Climbing" we encounter the Zen-inspired attitude of the mountain climbers who are

...going toward
the top of the mountain
just for the sheer joy of it

In other poems Zonailo dabbles in Zen koans: "If the bowl is empty/ is it an almost perfect space?" and "How much rain can the angel hold/in the palm of his hand?" Besides the Zen poems, this last section has still more poems on the subject of death.

     The book concludes with a long poem about Vancouver's beaches which is full of spiritual experiences usually involving memory. "City By The Sea" (made up of seven medium length poems), is sometimes weakened by sloppy imagery such as in

that have become tangled
like a web

The tangled web is a tired cliché and in this case makes for an inaccurate simile as well since webs are actually rather ordered affairs.

     After the meatier poems dealing with death and suffering, the littoral experience of the final poem seems unimportant, a weak conclusion to an otherwise spiritually vigorous collection.

Copyright by Lavinia Inbar:, 2004. | Reviews | Lavinia Inbar
Wave Goddess
The Wave Goddess
Born in Vancouver, British Columbia, Zonailo attended ...
CZ is a visionary poet who writes with compassion and careful detail about the world she lives in.
GoddessThe Goddess in the Garden combines mystical insight and sensual language to evoke a timeless meadow where humans and deities play out eternal passions.
She draws on her study of mythology, astrology, and Jungian psychology, for a seemingly inexhaustible source of imagery.
There is a quality in her work which makes all her poems hers, but Zonailo’s style does differ. Compendium is a collection of short, lyrical poetry; Zone 5 of prose. Each book is an extension of her poetic exploration and a separate expression.
Over the years of sitting in Grant's Cafe or the Europa and talking poetry with Lewis Gretsinger, the questions have been asked: why write? what are you saying? what are your poetics?
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.
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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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