Interview with Carolyn Zonailo,
by Juliet McLaren, Ph.D., Canadian Literature
JM: Do you think that
other movement comes out of the Black Mountain school or its heirs?
CZ: Okay—what I see that happened somewhere
around the Black Mountain movement was a desire to strip language
and/or poetry of ornamentation. It's a kind of puritanism and
that's when language becomes the concern, rather than poetry.
And once you've become puritanical, poetry isn't allowed its ornamentation,
its poetic utterance. Poetry isn't even allowed to have the ornamentation
of meaning. And so I think my desire is to let the natural ornamentation
of poetry back in.
JM: When you speak
of 'the natural ornamentation of poetry,' would you like to explain
how you mean that?
CZ: I mean something akin to poetic exuberance.
Keats is to me a poet who is in love with language as it is a
part of poetry; in love with the natural ornamentation, exuberance,
and energy of poetry. And he gets himself into a lot of trouble
as a poet when he just blindly follows that enthusiasm, but when
it works I find a vitality that's lacking in some contemporary
work. Wallace Stevens is another poet who loves language as poetic
utterance, with that kind of ornamentation poetry naturally contains.
Poetry isn't just speech. The oral tradition, as it has become
in contemporary poetry, wants to pretend that poetry is speech.
That's what I mean by 'the natural ornamentation of poetry.' I
mean the fact that you are dealing with poetry, and therefore
with a certain structuring of language. Once you admit to letting
that structure happen, there's room in it for some of the exuberance
that you find in Keats's or Stevens’s poetry.
JM: So perhaps what
you are saying is that you work in an individual lyric mode, but
some of your lyric expression may have, in fact, a more general
relevance than the poem itself.
CZ: I don't think it's "may have."
To me there's no such thing as the individual— culturally
or historically or even ethically separate—so what I mean
is trafficking with theory—you can write prescriptively
by saying 'I write language,' or by saying 'I write a certain
ideology,' rather than poetry….
JM: One of the
things that strikes me as being different about your work, that
is, from some of the kinds of imagery associated with traditional
forms, is summed up for me in your idea of rock as both organic
and generative. I think the more traditional view of rock is that
it's somehow both cold and in some sense sterile.
CZ: That's the phallic view—the split
rock has obvious female implications but I think my imaging it
that way goes back to this coast. I find the rocks on the west
coast are often very sensual, organic and, for me, they have a
generative quality. The female genital rock, if you want to talk
about it mythologically, is Mithra—the cave, the womb, the
tomb. There is the birthing rock, with its mythological rites
of passage: the passing of a baby through a rock with a hole in
it. But I think there are many ways of seeing the rock as being
JM: It's very appropriate
for you, in the way you've talked about your work and your concerns,
to see rock in that light. It helps us move right away from the
rock as some kind of technology or as a tool for the jackhammer
or artificial facing for a building. Even though you call yourself
a "post-feminist" there is certainly a strong commitment
to the non-phallic...
CZ: Oh, but that rock is a hearthstone, too,
the central domestic stone or firestone. And I think that if the
image is to have the kind of viability for someone else as it
has for me that generative quality has to be a natural part of
the image, concretely, to begin with.
JM: Before we leave
the question of your relationship to other writers, do you see
that there is a particular regional voice in B.C., or on the west
coast, that is unique to this part of Canada? Or do you think
that you have—as others of your generation may—shared
concerns with poets in Toronto or the Maritimes that transcend
CZ: I think that I have a really strong shared
concern with a French poet, Guillevic... I'm particularly enamoured
of the B.C. coastal landscape. It has influenced my psyche. The
issue of is there a west coast voice? Well, there's a west coast
locale, and the environment, the landscape, the upbringing or
background of a poet is part of their poetry, but it seems to
me to put too much emphasis on these factors when you say there's
a distinct west coast voice. I consider myself a west coast person,
but that's by birth and by upbringing and by experience. Being
from the west coast has had an influence on my poetic sensibility,
but that doesn’t define my body of work, as a poet. It’s
along the same lines as language being a necessity in poetry,
but not the sum total of the poem. The west coast is definitely
an ‘ingredient’ in my writing, but there are several
other ingredients as well, which, mixed together, constitute my
||CVII, vol. 6, no. 1 &
Copyright by Juliet McLaren and Carolyn Zonailo: www.carolynzonailo.com,