The Taste of Giving: New &
Selected Poems, “The Feminine Consciousness
in Poetry: Four Long Poems by Carolyn Zonailo”, essay
by Stephen Morrissey
Nature, or the ocean, are forces
that cannot be controlled by humans. Likewise, when the unconscious
mind intervenes in our daily life, it too seems foreign, a part
of our world not able to be controlled by the rational mind. No
wonder when the irrational appears we are often disturbed and
disequilibriated; our whole education and existence is, for the
most part, a movement towards imposing control, whether in our
own lives or upon the natural world that surrounds us.
Zonailo’s archetypal approach
to poetry may differ from the post-Romantic view of deconstructionist
literary theory. However, most of us still long for something
that gives us meaning and comfort. One has only to remember the
last lines of Matthew Arnold's "Dover Beach" to recognize
a lack of spirituality that is more prevalent today than it was
even in Arnold's own time. Zonailo's importance as a poet partly
lies in her assertion of the urgency of the numinous in everyday
As in "Journey to the Sibyl"
there is the image of a trapped bird in "Blue and Green":
a seagull swoops and gathers in its
the unsinkable lure.
Caught now, on the line, the bird is a body
pulled from the sky
and flight becomes a matter of diving,
diving into the alien water.
The next section of the poem continues this image:
The hooked bird disappears underwater;
feels its feather become fins.
The beaked mouth, sharp with barbed pain,
takes on the human features
of a seal's whiskered face.
The bird, entering by accident
the world of man, is dragged into the sea. However, a transition
occurs in the image: the bird becomes human-like and now represents
those who enter the unconscious mind by chance. Indeed, perhaps
the unfortunate ones who enter unwillingly, through emotional
breakdown, or through the demands of nightmarish dreams or some
other psychic disturbance are most common. Some may enter the
depths of the unconscious willingly: "two men/ prepare to
dive./ They wear wet suits, helmets, masks..." How is one
to enter the sea? Zonailo writes:
If you swim the sea will float you,
but swallow you
if you dive deeply.
This is how to dive—take artificial lungs,
wear an extra layer of skin...
in the destructive element
by the exertion of your hands and feet
the deep, deep sea bear you up
Zonailo's approach here is Taoist,
the approach of least resistance. If you struggle against the
sea you will be drowned, yet if you can relax then there is the
possibility of at least treading water. But most of us are psychically
thin-skinned. We don’t have "an extra layer of skin".
Subsequently, we are more liable to drowning than the individual
who does not fight "the destructive element". Our rational
minds resist hearing messages from the unconscious; thereby, we
resist change or transformation.
What does one observe beneath the
sea's surface? First, "the surface is a memory", a foreign
place, just as the unconscious mind is foreign when we are not
in direct contact with it. Second, "there's no light...only
a midnight blue like a starless/ night." But it needn't be
a place of darkness and terror:
In the flashlight's beam the sea-floor
is a garden of orange-coloured blossoms
bending in the current...
The sea is never still, the silent depth
alive with strange shapes.
There are many things to observe
in the under-depths of the ocean or the unconscious: "time
takes on/ another dimension...” This is psychic time, the
non-linear time of the emotions; indeed, there is also a suggestion
of the mystic's transcendence of time. The rational world of differentiating
reality into species, levels of order and organization, has no
value here. This type of perception offers what philosopher W.T.
Stace, author of The Teachings of the Mystics, has referred
to as an "undifferentiated perception of reality". In
the poem, “Blue and Green”, Zonailo as poet and mystic
identifies an awareness of reality that is holistic, non-temporal,
and not bound by concepts that prevent understanding of more visionary
ways of apprehending the world. For Zonailo, "Language becomes
a gesture, a signal/ made by a gloved hand."
The world of the unconscious can
also be a place of terror. There is a gruesome discovery, a "naked
body, bloated by sea-swell,/ sinks and is lodged between rocks/
in the steep shelf." Death is a part of the psyche; we are
able to perceive the new only when the old is allowed to die.
Only with a psychic rebirth can fresh concepts supercede outworn
ones. There is death in the psyche, but there is also recognition
that loss is inevitable. Fear of the unknown prevents some people
from going deeply into the unconscious mind. But if we continue,
if we are courageous, we can then discover something remarkable
unfolding before us: a transformation has taken place. The drowned
body that was discovered is being partially eaten by small fish
and this body, undergoing natural change, rests on a rock. In
the poem the rock ledge the dead body is lodged upon is seen by
the poet as mythologically female. "The rock is a woman":
Starfish cover her nipples, cling
to her crevice.
They are lovers under the water—
the woman whose body is stone,
the man whose body begins to decompose...
under the water they mate and make love,
not drowned but diving,
The dead man is absorbed by nature:
it is almost an act of love. This organic form of transformation,
via nature, is presented as an erotic process. Death—whether
psychic or literal—is no longer something to be feared;
it is now a return to the physical world that represents continual
death and regeneration. In this form of transcendence there is
also love. Here, in "Blue and Green", we enter an expansiveness
of consciousness. Despite the turmoil of the everyday world, Zonailo
takes a contemplative approach to life that should not be confused
with passive resignation: "The drowned bird will be swept
to shore,/ feathers heavy with memory/ of flight".
To enter the depths one must be
prepared to die to the way we live, and be reborn at a different
level of awareness. Before leaving the sea, "With the last
moments of air/... cut a path through kelp/ back to the breathable,
blue surface." We can't live in the unconscious mind, but
we can visit there through myth, dreams, literature, spirituality,
psychotherapy, depth psychology, poetry, art. By doing so, we
can replenish our fundamental existence; and then we return to
live in the mundane world of everyday life. But ordinary life
is now transformed and has been enhanced with the imaginal, the
creative, and the archetypal. As Jungian analyst James Hollis
says in Creating a Life: Finding Your Individual Path,
the end goal of psychotherapy is not always to make a person happier
or to solve life’s dilemmas. Hollis writes, "Therapy
will not heal you, make your problems go away or make your life
work out. It will, quite simply, make your life more interesting….
Consciousness is the gift and that is the best it gets."
Going into one’s shadow material, or through a shamanic
transformation, or finding the seer’s wisdom, or going into
the depths of the oceanic collective, brings back to the surface
“sea-treasure” in the form of individuation.
The poetry of Carolyn Zonailo is
a journey into the underworld. She is a poet who moves the reader
deeper into an unfolding of the self. This is not only a poetry
of self-discovery, but the poetry of an individual who discovers
the intricate depths of the human psyche as it unfolds. As the
self is revealed, so is the Self, a consciousness that transcends
personal self-discovery. This is a poetry of unity over division,
of love over despair and bitterness, and of life affirmation over
denial. It is a manifestation of the archetypal feminine consciousness.
What, in summation, is the feminine
consciousness? I suggest that it is ultimately a vision of union
and unity that is close to a mystic's perception of the world.
It is a vision that is made more accessible to the reader by the
work of Carl Jung and subsequent writers on Jungian themes, by
Taoism, by mysticism, by archetypal psychology, or by religions
that allow for the existence of apparent contradictions. Whitman
famously writes: "Do I contradict myself?/ Very well then
I contradict myself,/ (I am large, I contain multitudes.)"
The feminine consciousness also contains “multitudes”.
It is predominantly intuitive rather than rational; it emphasizes
the "oneness" in all things, rather than differences
and contradictions; it is a union with nature. The archetypal
feminine consciousness may be like the Tao; Jean Shinoda Bolen,
a contemporary Jungian analyst, writes in The Tao of Psychology:
The eternal Tao or great Tao had many names representing the
idea that there is an eternal law or principle at work, underlying
what appeared as a perpetually changing world in motion. Taoists
referred to it by many names, including the Primal Unity and
Source, the Cosmic Mother, the Infinite and Ineffable Principle
of Life, the One.
Shinoda's commentary on the Tao
is consistent with Zonailo's perception of human nature and the
natural world. Carolyn Zonailo is one of the very few contemporary
Canadian poets who writes from the feminine consciousness. Zonailo’s
poetry is a celebration of life and of the creative ability of
the individual to realize most fully his or her potentialities.
Cederstrom, Lorelei. The Fine-Tuning of the Feminine: Jungian
Patterns in the Novels of Doris Lessing. New York: Peter
Johnson, Robert A. We: Understanding the Psychology of Romantic
Love. New York: Harper and Row, 1983.
Hollis, James. Creating a Life: Finding Your Individual Path.
Toronto: Inner City Books, 2001.
Neumann, Erich. Amor and Psyche: The Psychic Development
of the Feminine. New York: Princeton University Press, 1956.
Shinoda Bolen, Jean. The Tao of Psychology: Synchronicity
and the Self. New York; Harper and Row, 1979.
Stace, Walter T. The Teachings of the Mystics. New York:
Mentor Books, 1960.
Zonailo, Carolyn. "The Idea of Poetry as the Visible Rainbow."
Poetry Canada Review 9:1 (Fall 1987)
---------------------. Inside Passage. Vancouver: Caitlin
---------------------. "Interview with Carolyn Zonailo."
CVII 6:1&2 (Winter 1982).
---------------------. A Portrait of Paradise. Vancouver:
blewointment press, 1979
---------------------. The Taste of Giving: New & Selected
Poems. Vancouver: Caitlin Press, 1990.
Copyright by Stephen Morrissey: www.carolynzonailo.com,