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Review of All Our Wonder Unavenged
From Barbara Carey , The Toronto Star - July 8, 2007

A kind of alchemy, an opener of doors

Halifax’s Domanski invites us to enter another realm; a Métis mom explores another kind of magic called motherhood

All Our Wonder Unavenged by Don Domanski
Brick Books, 128 pages, $18

Mother Time: Poems New and Selected by Joanne Arnott Ronsdale Press, 140 pages, $14.95

There’s a wonderful poem by Rilke, called “The Reader,” that captures the uncanny way words on a page can create a world so rich and involving it’s like experiencing an alternate reality. All Our Wonder Unavenged, Halifax poet Don Domanski’s eighth collection, has that kind of seductive power. Reading it is like entering another realm – or, more accurately, glimpsing a strange, hidden side to our familiar world.

Domanski’s work is intimate in the sense that many poems arise from his observations while, say, walking by a river or driving through a downpour at night; everything from fireflies and bats to sea turtles and clouds engage his meditative curiosity. Yet his approach is also impersonal. As he puts it in one poem, “the night sky is part of our nervous system.” It’s that mysterious, cosmic dimension in all things that draws his reverent attention.

In fact, Domanski dissolves the division between matter and spirit in his deft, striking metaphors. Even animate and inanimate seem like irrelevant categories for him – stones are “balanced on their one footstep,” and water “enters a room trembling.”

In effect, Domanski’s poetry is a kind of alchemy, and the agent of that magical transformation is metaphor. Words like “the infinite” and “eternity” can seem hollowly abstract on their own – and they are among Domanski’s favourite words, along with “silence” and “stillness.”

But he anchors the intangible in physical specifics. In “Disposing of an Old Clock,” for instance, he relates the clock’s mechanism to time itself: “I carefully remove the screw that controlled / the weightlessness of the future and the one / that counterchecked the heaviness of the past. “

Elsewhere, Domanski refers to “a downsize / of the possible. ” All Our Wonder Unavenged is just the opposite: It’s a thrilling, evocative expansion of the possible – and isn’t opening a door to new ways of seeing exactly what the finest poets do?

Domanski focuses on the wonders of creation, both terrestrial and celestial. A more personal form of creation is the theme of Métis writer Joanne Arnott’s Mother Time.

Arnott has had six children, and this sampling of new and selected work about various aspects of motherhood is also her sixth collection. For her, fertility and creativity are connected. As she puts it in one poem, “the babe in me feels / just like a great idea / burgeoning, taking shape.”

Her poems are conversational and direct, and at their best combine a spare lyricism with personable candour. Many readers will nod in recognition at her portrayal of childbirth as both a “primal moment,” bloody and violent, and a “manifestation of magic.”

Though Arnott’s poems are grounded in personal experience, they also address the cultural stereotypes of motherhood. There’s tenderness and nurturing here, but exasperation and rage, too.

As a mother, Arnott also sees herself as a link between generations, responsible for passing down the traditions of her aboriginal heritage.

And as a poet? In her introduction, Arnott writes that she wanted to “make something that will be useful” to readers – hence the directness of her voice.

Even her metaphors tend to be straightforward. Still, a number of poems strike a chord because they address familiar experiences with clarity. There’s a certain unassuming appeal in that.

 

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