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Interviews | Interviews | Juliet McLaren
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Interview with Carolyn Zonailo, by Juliet McLaren, Ph.D., Canadian Literature

JM: Sounds like you're connecting, perhaps unconsciously, to all that mythic background. But your garden, as I said, is not simply an Edenic garden. It's more mysterious and I think more complex than that. Your garden does not seem to partake simply of the roses and dreamland of so many poetic gardens, particularly in the Romantic tradition.

CZ: Well, I think it's not an Edenic garden because it's a garden of passion; it's a garden of earthly passion. It's a romantic garden but the traditional Romantic rose garden has a certain chastity that my garden doesn't have. From the beginning, it was a garden of passion and specifically of female erotic love.

JM: Let's go on to your long poem, "The Journey to the Sibyl." This again includes flower imagery but in a very different way, and I am fascinated by your use of the bird image and by your re-making of the mythology. How did you come to write this poem?

CZ: I came to write "Journey to the Sibyl" out of my work with longer poems. At the end of Split Rock I wrote "The Dreamkeeper", and that poem really opened up for me a longer form. It was a very exciting poem to write and made available areas which I wanted to keep exploring. The birds, the bird-woman, the sibyl, all these images surfaced as part of the poem. I went up the coast one weekend, and as I do there, I looked at a lot of rocks... We went by boat into a cove that was very beautiful. It was one of the first hot days in May. It was on my son's birthday weekend, and we had seven or eight other children with us, when we went into this very beautiful and secluded bay. We walked there, and that's where the poem started.

JM: So you are once again very strongly connected to the landscape, particularly the coast landscape, in this poem?

CZ: Oh, I think so, and I think it's maybe my first mature look at the coast, if that makes sense. Because at this point, after writing Split Rock, and after going through a lot of personal changes and growth, suddenly the coast appeared new to me again. Or my relationship to it appeared new. And so it seems to me a mature kind of entry into that landscape.

JM: That's a good choice of word: entry. Because it seems to me that thinking about your use of landscape in earlier poems it is more descriptive (that is, landscape itself) and in this poem it is participatory in a way that is different from some of your earlier work.

CZ: When I said that it was a mature look, I meant that mortality enters into it. To me the Sibyl, as the dominant persona in the poem, is an image of an aging, aged, and ageless female. The spiritual wisdom she embodies, from her on-going process of aging and from her approaching mortality, interests me. George Bowering, in one of his prefaces, said that around age 30 you become mortal. Up until that point you don't feel that you are mortal. Well, when I say it's a mature look it's because I had hit that stage when I had become mortal.

JM: I want to ask about the "Annunciation, the Angel" poem. With all your interest in classical mythological figures, where do you see the Virgin Mary coming from as a figure that matters to you—personally and mythically?

CZ: I've always had a thing for the Virgin Mary... (laughter).

JM: But surely you think of the Virgin Mary as someone particularly idealized by men, in our culture?

CZ: Yes, but if you say that the basic culture we were raised in was a Christian one—or it was, at least when I was growing up—then she's the only female deity my culture gave me. She is what was available to me as part of my emotional and religious upbringing. I wrote an earlier Annunciation poem, called “Prayer”, that was in auto-da-fe. I wrote an even earlier poem, "Feast for the Mother of Immaculate Conception" that was never published. I've always been intrigued by Mary. Psychologically she's a very problematical female myth-figure, and so of course she's an interesting one.

JM: This seems to be a good place to go to the question of influence and relationship. In so many contemporary poets, particularly in B.C., when they try to describe their own poetic it is often in terms of language itself. Where do you see yourself in relation to that kind of poetic statement?

CZ: Well, I have a lot of trouble with the notion of language as poetry. The language is part of the poem, but poetry isn’t just language. Poetry, to me, has to contain truth—and if you want to you can put quotation marks around "truth," or give it a capital T. Maybe a more contemporary word would be the "real." But, language is part of the poem but it isn’t the poem. I think trying to get close to what is real is part of the poem, too, and for me both have to be there in a poem I write or a poem I read, for the poem to work for me. That's not to say I'm not concerned with or interested in language but it's like saying that my personality is part of who I am. But to say that I'm just my personality... What is real, and the language which expresses it, they are components and together they make up the poem. The reality, the vision, the language and the craft: together, these make the poem.

JM: So then you would not consider yourself in the same place as those poets writing now who are really obsessed with the word as some kind of poetic experience?

CZ: It's not that I wouldn't consider myself in the same place; I consider myself going someplace different. There are a number of writers, locally and contemporarily, who have, I think, divorced language from poetry. It goes back to saying that I'm writing a poem, I'm not simply 'doing something with language.' I'm not simply saying something off the page, either—I'm writing poetry and giving the poem its literary significance.

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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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