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Interviews | Interviews | Juliet McLaren
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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 generative.

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 regionalism altogether?

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 poetry.

  CVII, vol. 6, no. 1 & 2
Winter, 1982

Copyright by Juliet McLaren and Carolyn Zonailo:, 2004.

Page: 1, 2, 3 | Interviews | Juliet McLaren
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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