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Reviews | Reviews | Marya Fiamengo

Zen Forest, review by Marya Fiamengo, Canadian Literature

     Carolyn Zonailo is the most innovative, if at times uneven of the poets under discussion here. She is more than a poet of promise, she is already a poet of some achievement. Her work is distinguished by a diligent commitment to imaginative growth. "Journey to the Sibyl," a long poem in a previous volume, The Wide Arable Land, is a sustained exploration of interior space, a remarkable mapping of a spiritual journey toward moral and imaginative awareness whose ultimate goal is wisdom. In Zen Forest, Zonailo sets herself a difficult task. She moves past exploration of interior, inward space to a contemplation of exterior physical locale. She strives to document and clarify what place means. It is obviously the intention of the poet to use documentation of landscape to create a metaphor of the enduring and permanent which lies beyond the palpable and physical.

     Duncan Campbell Scott, in "The Height of Land," uses accurate documentation of wilderness landscape to create with great effect a sense of heightened consciousness. His detail is a lyrically cumulative evocation of a moment of insight which casts a spell that is "Golden and inappellable." The Chinese poet, Wang Wei does the same:

Light cloud, on the pavilion on a small rain
Remote cloister, at noon still shut
Sit and regard the colour of the green moss
That seems it will merge into cloth and self.

     These four lines present the difference between distillation and description. Landscape as place is rendered while the ineffables of mood, of interior nuance, suggest the mystery of cosmic harmony.

     Such mastery of form, language, and concept is difficult to achieve. Miss Zonailo should be commended for trying. "Third Beach" and "Spanish Banks" are two such attempts. They almost succeed in suggesting the numinous present in the pedestrian and the ordinary. They falter, and in places fail because of language, the poet's inability to maintain control of diction and thus sustain consistent tone. Both poems suffer from stanzas which surrender entirely to the prosaic and to the banal, as the following lines from Third Beach fail because of the uninspired use of the trite colloquial:

This sun filled afternoon
is every afternoon;
that gorgeous
suntanned, muscled body
is everybody

"Gorgeous" is both trite and imprecise, while a "suntanned, muscled body" is advertising copy. By the nature of its imprecision, vague colloquialisms are inadequate to suggest the transcendental.

     I suspect the minimalist style the poet adopts in these poems does her sensibility a disservice. Zonailo's use of minimalism is not unlike a brilliant coloratura voice forced to sing contralto. We miss the dazzle of the top notes and at the same time are robbed of the natural grace and richness of the lower register. "Moments of Everyday Enlightenment" presents as a final sequence poems which aim at but miss epiphany. The photographic eye is accurate but the aim uncertain. The target, that metamorphosis where the ordinary world of sense reveals the extraordinary world of perception, is missed. This is all the more unfortunate, because at her best Carolyn Zonailo is a poet of wit and aphorism with a keen sense of the incongruous and paradoxical. She delights in the whimsical and the absurd. Her Romance Series—Lilac, Arthurian, Mutual Attraction—conveys a delicate erotic presence as well as a metaphysical élan that plays adroitly with language.

     I would also single out as poems of fully realized potential "The Geese," "Meditation for My Stepson" and the two elegies "Woman Walking Dog" and "Cyclist in Spring Rain." Zen Forest is the work of a poet of substance who, once recovered from minimal malaise, may find her reach does not exceed her grasp, but rather articulates a writer who in "making and meditation" becomes a continuous remaker of her garden of experience.

Copyright by Marya Fiamengo:, 2004. | Reviews | Marya Fiamengo
Wave Goddess
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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.
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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.
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