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Poetics | Poetics | Why I Write

12. Why I Write

     I write because I was born a poet. I write because I have no choice. The poems come to me—lines, images, titles, stanzas, whole poems—and so I listen and write down what I hear. It is the way I think—in metaphor, image, poetic utterance. I rarely deliberately set out “to write a poem”. The poems often write themselves, through me, as a channel from the imaginal, the unconscious, from psyche and the collective unconscious. Poems are given to me, sometimes in their entirety, at one sitting. Or some arrive more slowly, line by line, or a title comes well in advance—perhaps weeks, months, or even years—ahead of the rest of the poem. I am witness to the poems themselves, as they unfold. The poems are a gift, given to me, and they have a life of their own, separate from me, as a child is given to a parent and then grows to assume their own life. The material in my poems work on me, more often than the other way around. Each poem, as it writes itself, is an act of creation and of discovery.

     And yet, the poems I write are intensely personal. Now, over half way through my writing life, I am beginning to realize just how much I have given away—all the intimate details of my living and of my psyche. On December 25th, 1958, my Nana gave me a small five year diary. On January 1, 1959, I began my writing life with this as my first diary entry:

Dear Diary: To start off with, let’s drop the Diary and call you Secret, or Secry for short. Today, I went to see Cinerama “Search For Paradise”—it had stereo sound and was really and truly wonderful. The first day of 1959 has been wonderful.

     I was eleven years old when I wrote that first diary entry, and thus began my formal writing life. A few years later, in 1964, the small format diary had become a “journal”—an 8 _ x 11 notebook, which I called “Search For A Soul”. By then I was a teenager. I wrote in my journal; I wrote poetry; I knew I would continue to write. What began innocently at age eleven, in the form of a Christmas present from my grandmother, had become an obsession or way of life.

     When I was a child I experienced mystical or magical events, moments that transcended time, states of being that I couldn’t talk about—until I discovered poetry. In 1955, at age eight, I had my tonsils removed in the hospital. As a get-well gift, I was given a special present—a large book of Mother Goose rhymes. I still have this book—it has stayed with me, despite the many moves in my adult life. The other book I have kept from childhood is an illustrated copy of Alice in Wonderland. Both these publications are wonderful English editions with text, colour plate illustrations, and black and white drawings. I loved the simple, memorable nursery rhymes of Mother Goose; this verse was my initiation into the world of poetry. I lived an intense imaginal life as a child, and I am still able to remember many of the bedtime stories my mother read to me. As soon I learned to read, I read. Literature was my natural milieu.

     At age nine, when I was in grade four, I discovered the completely transporting, transcending and transformative power of poetry. My older brother brought home a school textbook entitled POEMS WORTH KNOWING. That book changed my life forever. It brought into my young consciousness the full richness of the world of poetry. From then on, I knew that I belonged to poetry. POEMS WORTH KNOWING included poems by Wordsworth, Sir Walter Scott, Shelley, Tennyson, Browning, Thomas Hardy, W.B. Yeats, G.K. Chesterson, Walter de la Mare, John Masefield, Rupert Brooke, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Christina Rossetti, Walt Whitman, W.H. Davies, E.J. Pratt, Archibald Lampman, Duncan Campbell Scott, and Bliss Carman, among others.

     In school we had begun memorizing and reciting poems; those lines still reverberate within: “I must go down to the sea again/ To the lonely sea and the sky/ And all I ask is a tall ship/ And a star to steer her by.” Or, “What is this life, if full of care/ We have no time to stand and stare?” I still have my brother’s copy of POEMS WORTH KNOWING, published in 1941. It contained British, American, and Canadian poets—what a bountiful poetic harvest for a young poetry enthusiast.

     For the last thirty years—throughout my twenties, thirties, forties, and early fifties—I wrote because it seemed I had to write to exist. I wrote a lot of poetry. And, somehow, the writing found its way into books. My life, over the course of many of those years, didn’t always feel that much in support of my writing. And at times, nor did the writing community at large. But nevertheless, I continued to write because the writing was there; it insisted on becoming. Silence wasn’t an option, although as a woman I sometimes felt there were sources urging me to “shut up”, to stop writing, speaking, to be silent. Perhaps, at the best of times, there isn’t a lot of support for anyone to become a poet. And, within the roles defined by being a wife, a mother, a daughter—there seemed even less encouragement. Now, when I look back, I wonder—how did I persist? In fact, why did I persist? Then I realize because the poems themselves were insistent, and so the need to speak was stronger than the outside command to be silent. It was that each poem and each act of writing affirmed the collective. There are many races, many diverse cultures, but poetry expresses the soul of humanity. There was, and continues to be, an imperative in me that embraces being alive through creativity and imagination, through literary writing and composition.

     Looking back now, I realize that I was often writing outside the mainstream, because I write for the purpose of spiritual realization, rather than just for literary ambition. I am a visionary, a mystic, and a poet. My vision of what it means to be female, to be human, to be both a spiritual being and a physical person living a daily life, is what my poetry gives witness to. Most of all, my poetry urges us to look upon the world we all share, and to do so with wonder, love, and compassion. In the face of suffering—natural, political, psychological, economic—it is still possible to sing of beauty, of love, of our need to touch one another in any way we can and to offer comfort. And, in that spirit, the poems have continued to be written.

  Carolyn Zonailo, 2001

Copyright by Carolyn Zonailo:, 2004 | Poetics | Why I Write
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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