BORN AND RAISED on Cape Breton Island and now a Halifax resident, Don Domanski’s eighth book of poetry is All Our Wonder Unavenged (Brick Books).
Born in Estonia to an Estonian mother and a Sir Lankan father, but a U.S. citizen living and writing in Toronto, Sandra Kasturi’s first collection is The Animal Bridegroom (Tightrope Books, $14.95).
Domanski and Kasturi are little alike, especially since the fully Canadian Domanski is permitted – and permits himself – expansive, imaginative range, while the presumably U.S. educated Kasturi seems, like most Yanks, a devotee of the plain-speech line.
Even so, both poets explore the fabulous. Celtic mysticism inspires Domanski’s elements-charge, roots-surrealism, while Kasturi’s “fantastical poetry” thrives on recast fairy tales and deathless children’s stories.
Domanski’s mysticism – like that of W.B. Yeats – conceives of all the religions as arising from a single, time-lost revelation. Thus, all the so-called pagan myths are true: records of contact between human beings and divinity.
For Domanski, this belief means re-examining the Druid, magic consciousness of nature, to tap a fluid rush of uncanny images: “warmth of a star standing with me in the kitchen”; “tumble of flames in each gesture we make”; corpses…/ whoring for heartbeats among the ferns”; “that splash of darkness under each and every stone”; and “clouds …drifting west to east … prayer smoke / carrying our sorrows and lamentations far from the city.”
Just as spiritual belief need never end – or change, but may always be perpetuated by each new disciple, so too do Domanski’s images repeat: he recycles moth, darkness, blood, star, shadow, and the like – like a Christian artist redoing the crucifix, thorns, lambs, loaves, fish, bread, and wine, in endless, ecstatic configurations.
His writing recaps an antique faith articulated through old – and timeless – symbols: “and dogs bark and dogs bark and I almost understand / their Indo-European tongues . . . their slang for sex . . . for death / . . . their wonder unavenged . . . all our wonder unavenged.”
Reading Domanski is like rummaging about in wisdom scripture: the shock of the new, yes, plus the comfort in déjB vu.
Stunning, though, is his array of unusual verbs: mothering, vamping up, stand-down, jacked, honeymooning, etc. Here’s how they work: “headlights breasting darkness”; “thought that crowns each cell”; “fizzle of the ant in her egg.” Sumptuous!
Nominated twice for the Governor-General’s award for poetry, and a recipient of the Canadian Literacy award for poetry, and translated severally, Domanski takes up where Welsh bard Dylan Thomas leaves off.
Sandra Kasturi’s poems re-work kindergarten tales, updating them and inking them more darkly Gothic than they already are. So Hansel visits Gretel in hospital and says, “remember my love for you / and know that when I sit by your . . . bed / and feel your fingers in mine, / know that I, / I willnot be fooled / by a thin chicken bone.”
In Kasturi’s version of Little Red Robin Hood, the speaker asserts, “A woman who loves a wolf / needs him beside her / . . . his belly pressed against her back, / his teeth sharp against her shoulder blade. /Ah, she cries, ah, ah, ah.”
“The Fisherman’s Wife Revisited” goes like this: “I caught you in the sea like a flounder / and when I had worked the hook out of your mouth / you said you could only give me one wish / so I cast you back in and caught you twice more.”
As chic as these adult-rated nursery stories are, Kasturi’s free verse and CSI-idion render them, I think, too expected and, well, as ordinary as any old shoe colonized by moths.
Her strongest lyrics exhibit real form: the haiku of “Five Cantos . . . ” (“Love is the soft ear / of a wild cherry flower, / a Japanese pen and ink”) and the couplets of “I Speak for the Serpent”: “I’ve become too rough and frantic, too infantile. / Losing years of wisdom with each beat of wings, heart, and head.”
Among Canuck poets, Kasturi is reminiscent of Margaret Atwood, Gwendolyn MacEwan, and Stephanie Bolster. Welcome her; watch her grow and blossom.
George Elliott Clarke, a Nova Scotia-born author and poet is a literature professor at University of Toronto. In 2001, he won the Governor General’s Award for poetry.