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Reviews | Reviews | Mona Elaine Adilman

Zen Forest, 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 relationships.

     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,
       rust-coloured bark trail.
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 death
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
and illuminates
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:, 2004. | Reviews | Mona Elaine Adilman
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.
Photo Gallery
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.
CZ Go to the Top of the Page.
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