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CZ.com | Reviews | Stephen Morrissey
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The Taste of Giving: New & Selected Poems, “The Feminine Consciousness in Poetry: Four Long Poems by Carolyn Zonailo”, essay by Stephen Morrissey

     Even dreams are no solace for those who have fallen from grace, for those who have become exiles from Edenic consciousness. Zonailo writes: "Night, fire, the dark/ moon-bewildered/ animals: these my dream/ companions, my personae." When the narrator "meet[s] the wolf in/ daylight" she is meeting her shadow self, made distinct from her and materialized into the form of a wolf. The poet now recognizes the she-wolf as evidence of her own disturbed psyche. The totemic or shamanic animal’s intervention in her life is no longer reserved for the night, it now confronts her during the daylight hours. There is no respite in this poem, only a final despair, sorrow, and resignation to solitude: "I am one person walking/ alone…. / This isolation turns/ my heart into stone"; Zonailo continues:

The snake I wanted to kill
begins to love me:
my body smells like shed
skin. I wait until

blood dries in thin brown
stripes on my legs, then bury

my clothes, the amulets of love
I carried with me. When I descend

from the mountain, I walk
naked into a morning light

where there are no dreams.

     There is much interest today in mythology and a growing fascination with various manifestations of the Goddess. In the second of the four extended poems that are spiritual pilgrimages, "Ceremonial Dance", Zonailo now refers to Circe, the sorceress who enchanted Ulysses and had the extraordinary ability to transform men into animals. “Ceremonial Dance” is a poem that begins with sexual transformation; it deals with one of the several ways in which women are depicted in mythology and literature, and is a manifestation of the goddess as enchantress.

     "Ceremonial Dance" is an interesting poem: we begin with a reference to Circe's island, as a mythological place in antiquity, but the contemporary locale is the Queen Charlotte Islands, off the coast of northern British Columbia. The Queen Charlottes are the physical and spiritual home for the Haida, known for their creativity and their totemic art. There is an ingenious overlapping of geographical locations, making the distant and foreign feel local and known. There is also the blending, at one point, of Haida myth with Greek mythology. This certainly shows the oneness of human nature and the relevance of mythology—disparate cultures manifesting psychological reality in the similarity of the motifs in their mythologies.

     Zonailo begins this poem by referring to Circe and her tempting of Ulysses. Circe's transformation of men into animals, after seducing them, is central to the poem. However, Circe doesn't transform Ulysses into an animal—instead she helps him find his way home, via the underworld, and gives Ulysses the magic he needs to travel, unharmed, to Hades and back again to the world of the living. Circe is a goddess of transformation and metamorphosis, and as such, a goddess central to the archetypal feminine consciousness. Circe represents spiritual change through sexual union. Zonailo writes:

The message Circe whispers
in Ulysses' ear
the message, traced like the veins

of his strong wrist
is the wind around her island.
To love and let go.

To send him away
on the longest journey
into the night-life

of the other world:
the transformation,
the metamorphosis.

     There are two important themes involved in this poem. First, Circe, the seductress
who is usually seen in a negative way, here represents change and renewal. It is Circe who transforms and metamorphosizes the men who come into her world. She is a psychic figure who signifies spiritual transformation. She changes men into totemic animals. To be changed into a totemic animal, whether it is shown in ancient Greek or Haida mythology, is to effect profound changes in the unconscious mind of the individual. These changes are usually manifested in the area of myth or dream or shamanic journey.

     In the following long poem, “Journey to the Sibyl”, the Sibyl is another kind of figure who stands at the entrance of the unconscious mind. Through the Sibyl’s prophecies she leads one into spiritual transformation. However, in “Ceremonial Dance”, we encounter Circe, who meets lovers and enchants them through her sexuality. Circe is a powerful female shaman, who leads one to inner transformation. Circe takes you down into your bestial nature and thereby transforms you. Circe, therefore, represents the spiritual aspects of sexuality. A part of the feminine consciousness is change through sexual union. The poem posits that sexuality can affirm life, offering a holistic vision of creation.

     A second aspect of “Ceremonial Dance” is the transformation not only by sexual awakening, but by change through romantic love. In our times, we have become resigned to marriages failing and are often jaded with respect to romantic love. However, most of us still fall in love and are deeply and profoundly changed—life acquires a new meaning and the sense of emptiness and lack of purpose often disappears. The erotic is a part of Zonailo's poetry, but so is romantic love. However, the poet is also aware of the possibility of the failure of romantic union. Zonailo writes of "Circe's gift: a wound/ in the thigh, a trip/ to the underworld." The poem reclaims ancient mythological images to function as metaphors for present-day experience. By juxtaposing North American native myth and classical references, Circe becomes depicted as a shaman and a healer rather than simply a sorceress. In Zonailo’s poem Circe is a very strong image of a female shaman whose gift can literally and metaphorically bring about transformation or metamorphosis.

     "Journey to the Sibyl", was first published in The Canadian Forum and was performed, recorded, and broadcast with jazz musicians Al Neil and Howard Broomfield. It is a marvelous poem, concise and perfectly written, always using the exact word to communicate a delicate interweaving of ideas and emotion. The Sibyl is a seer or prophet; she is a figure from antiquity who represents psychic perception, and who was in direct experiential contact with the noumenal and transcendental world. But the Sibyl of Cumae, Zonailo reminds us at the beginning of this poem, has exacted an unfortunate bargain with Apollo: she has been granted an extraordinarily long life, a thousand years, but she continues to age. Inevitably her body will atrophy, but there is still something to affirm—at least for a poet—who asserts that the Sibyl’s "voice will remain."

     This poem is a journey to the Sibyl, it is not an imaginative journey of a Sibyl. Zonailo is not taking on the persona of the Sibyl and assuming to be able to talk for her. This is a pilgrimage, a poem of odyssey that represents the dark night of the soul. The narrator of the poem is trapped, and there are images of being trapped throughout the poem. For instance, "a bird wakes me/ this morning in my room/ stares with frozen black/ eyes the window closed". Bird images are a central motif in Zonailo's poems; "the woman's hair/ like feathers, her smile/ a trap, is it jealousy". This is a poem of entrapment, of a feeling of loss of control over one's life. Nevertheless, it is also a poem of life affirmation, of concern with the details of everyday existence, "you can throw grief/ into the sea/ hook it back the way/ coho/ swim to the side of the boat." The world of temporality has not failed us; Zonailo writes, " why, anyway, cherry/ trees bloom on schedule/... the season returns/ on schedule/ the heart continues/ to pump blood."

     Throughout "The Journey to the Sibyl" there is the counterpoint and suggestion of death. A memory of "grandmother's face/ in the white satin/ coffin... the journey isn't/ to a place, only the sense/ of place." Geographically the "place" is the coast of British Columbia, an important locus in much of Zonailo's poetry. However, the true "place" and location of all of Zonailo's work is the soul. She writes:

     doppelgänger, the old woman
buried in me, the bird's

flight suspended
in mid-air

this companion self
might live for hundreds
of years

impossible to be certain

but the need
to make an image

to invent
an image that carries

a permanent face
a face fixed in stone

     The "face fixed in stone" is the face of the feminine consciousness as it is manifested in poetry. It is not only Zonailo's own face, but also the human face as it is expressed by a poet. Zonailo's journey may be to the Sibyl, but the expression of what is seen on the journey is the work of Zonailo, as woman and as poet. In this way, Zonailo also affirms the importance of the poet's voice: it may be a quiet voice in a world of activity, but it reverberates throughout history.

     “The Dreamkeeper” began Zonailo’s quest for individuation, and “Ceremonial
Dance” extended this pilgrimage into shamanic metamorphosis. Then “Journey to the Sibyl” explored the themes of mortality, prophecy, and spirituality. The fourth of the long quest-poems I have selected from this collection, “Blue and Green” could be a manifesto for the individual who has entered the psychic depths of the unconscious mind. There is a Whitmanic expansiveness of vision and language in this long poem. Once again, “Blue and Green” is actually a poem of life affirmation and spirituality. However, as in all of Zonailo's work, her spirituality seems more Eastern than Western, and has more to do with Jungian depth psychology than with traditional religious practice. The central image in “Blue and Green” is the sea and what is below the surface. The ocean is always a universal symbol for the unconscious. As such, it represents all that is hidden, opaque, and constantly changing. We must dive deeply into the sea to discover its hidden treasures, just as the individual needs to go deeply into the unconscious mind to reveal its secret insights, dreams, and visions. Zonailo writes:

The emerald sea, the grey-green sea,
the turquoise sea, the final blue Pacific…
pieces of sea glass collect on the beach

(prized most of all, the cobalt blue,
the smoky violet shards);
gather as sea-treasure in a mosaic.

And why not love the sea's harvest—
these fragments, bits of broken glass
that surface and resurface

between the blue of the sea and the thin blue line
between the sea and sky?

     Pieces of smooth broken glass that one finds on a beach can be seen as a link between the natural and man-made worlds. We are here at the littoral edge of nature between land and sea. Glass, that was wrought by humans, is now found on the seashore. The glass appears to have been assimilated into the natural world and seems almost as though it was created by nature. In a similar way this poem is a link between the conscious mind and the unconscious mind; between the natural, physical world and the human world. When we view the ocean as a cosmic symbol for the individual’s unconscious, or even the collective unconscious, we begin to understand the depths of this particular poem.

 
 
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CZ.com | Reviews | Stephen Morrissey
 
 
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Photo Gallery
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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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