review by Marya Fiamengo, Canadian Literature
Carolyn Zonailo is the most innovative,
if at times uneven of the poets under discussion here. She is
more than a poet of promise, she is already a poet of some achievement.
Her work is distinguished by a diligent commitment to imaginative
growth. "Journey to the Sibyl," a long poem in a previous
volume, The Wide Arable Land, is a sustained exploration
of interior space, a remarkable mapping of a spiritual journey
toward moral and imaginative awareness whose ultimate goal is
wisdom. In Zen Forest, Zonailo sets herself a difficult
task. She moves past exploration of interior, inward space to
a contemplation of exterior physical locale. She strives to document
and clarify what place means. It is obviously the intention of
the poet to use documentation of landscape to create a metaphor
of the enduring and permanent which lies beyond the palpable and
Duncan Campbell Scott, in "The
Height of Land," uses accurate documentation of wilderness
landscape to create with great effect a sense of heightened consciousness.
His detail is a lyrically cumulative evocation of a moment of
insight which casts a spell that is "Golden and inappellable."
The Chinese poet, Wang Wei does the same:
Light cloud, on the pavilion on a
Remote cloister, at noon still shut
Sit and regard the colour of the green moss
That seems it will merge into cloth and self.
These four lines present the difference
between distillation and description. Landscape as place is rendered
while the ineffables of mood, of interior nuance, suggest the
mystery of cosmic harmony.
Such mastery of form, language,
and concept is difficult to achieve. Miss Zonailo should be commended
for trying. "Third Beach" and "Spanish Banks"
are two such attempts. They almost succeed in suggesting the numinous
present in the pedestrian and the ordinary. They falter, and in
places fail because of language, the poet's inability to maintain
control of diction and thus sustain consistent tone. Both poems
suffer from stanzas which surrender entirely to the prosaic and
to the banal, as the following lines from Third Beach
fail because of the uninspired use of the trite colloquial:
This sun filled afternoon
is every afternoon;
suntanned, muscled body
"Gorgeous" is both trite and imprecise, while a "suntanned,
muscled body" is advertising copy. By the nature of its imprecision,
vague colloquialisms are inadequate to suggest the transcendental.
I suspect the minimalist style
the poet adopts in these poems does her sensibility a disservice.
Zonailo's use of minimalism is not unlike a brilliant coloratura
voice forced to sing contralto. We miss the dazzle of the top
notes and at the same time are robbed of the natural grace and
richness of the lower register. "Moments of Everyday Enlightenment"
presents as a final sequence poems which aim at but miss epiphany.
The photographic eye is accurate but the aim uncertain. The target,
that metamorphosis where the ordinary world of sense reveals the
extraordinary world of perception, is missed. This is all the
more unfortunate, because at her best Carolyn Zonailo is a poet
of wit and aphorism with a keen sense of the incongruous and paradoxical.
She delights in the whimsical and the absurd. Her Romance Series—Lilac,
Arthurian, Mutual Attraction—conveys a delicate erotic presence
as well as a metaphysical élan that plays adroitly with
I would also single out as poems
of fully realized potential "The Geese," "Meditation
for My Stepson" and the two elegies "Woman Walking Dog"
and "Cyclist in Spring Rain." Zen Forest is
the work of a poet of substance who, once recovered from minimal
malaise, may find her reach does not exceed her grasp, but rather
articulates a writer who in "making and meditation"
becomes a continuous remaker of her garden of experience.
Copyright by Marya Fiamengo: www.carolynzonailo.com,