review by Mona Elaine Adilman, Canadian Poetry
Zen Forest by Carolyn
Zonailo is a substantial work. Opening its pages, we are confronted
with a wide range of subject matter and styles: personal meditations,
recollections, chants, charms, a witch's spell, an adaptation
of the childhood rhyme-and-prayer, "Now I Lay Me Down to
Sleep," an imitation of Wallace Steven's "Thirteen Ways
of Looking at a Blackbird," lines after a poem by Theodore
Roethke, and a long, discursive poem on Vancouver's beaches. This
is the poet in a traditional sense, reflecting, describing, and
extemporizing on a variety of themes, death, nature, and personal
A gifted lyricist who spent a lot
of time at her craft, Zonailo writes with a depth, a quality of
spiritual insight, which is delightful. This may have something
to do with the title, Zen Forest, aptly illustrated by
the picture on the cover, presumably the poet standing beside
two giant cedars. Zonailo's voice, however, is more occidental
and entirely contemporary in inspiration. Witness the quiet dignity
of Zonailo's tribute to a woman dying of cancer:
Martha and her companion stand out
in contrast to the muted river tones,
the grey sea-grass, the clay banks,
They are fixed with the permanence
of a painting...
Caught there, in this pose, for eternity.
She goes on to compare the scene
to a poem, discloses the woman's struggle with cancer, and concludes:
And her search for a way to face
with grace, to go alone
into that darkness
is act beyond contemplation.
Martha's courage, sure as grace,
shines as a light on the unknown
as would the painting or the poem.
The second section of the book,
"Poems for the Holy Hours & Other Bedside Covenants,"
stands apart from the rest. Most of the poems fit into very formal
and precise patterns. There is little room to maneuver, but denuded,
calculated style can make for some very powerful effects, as when
Zonailo writes about her "box of fear":
How big is the box?
The size of a coffin.
. . . . .
How can I pry open the lid?
What do I do in the box?
Despite her talent Zonailo has
her weaker moments. Most annoyingly, she tends to ramble on unwittingly,
interspersing fresh, vibrant imagery with prosaic tidbits and
commonplace observations. She also needs to spend some time thinking
about the content of her work. What does she really want to say
in a more global or philosophical sense? What is distinctive about
her individual voice? About her vision of reality?
Copyright by Mona Elaine Adilman: www.carolynzonailo.com,