DON DOMANSKI’S WOEBEGONE AND WOKEN WORLDS
All Our Wonder Unavenged by Don Domanski.
London: Brick Books, 2007. 127 pp. $18C
I first became aware of Don Domanski’s excellence in the early numbers of arc magazine: “the wind/ goading the small stain/ of my fire.” I thought, This man really looks at things. When he had the moon say in a poem, “o my little / bowl of water, are you thirsty once again?”, I started to appreciate the wholly imaginary universe that Domanski was creating. Put simply, Domanski’s poems do not refer; they exist in an discrete, animate and delightful dimension, as in his “The Pyramid of Mice”, from Hammerstroke:
the cat plays a tune over and over
called “the Pyramid of Mice”
he plays the tune with the hands of a barber
(all razors and oil)
he strikes the wall and the couple sing
to them he’s more than life itself
more than God or country
Domanski’s world is also phantasmal, horrible, the occult chronicle of centipedes and spiders creeping along the ribbon of human history, making Domanski a poet of rare depth and scope. His aesthetic stance is a complex interpenetration of the human and the animal, the geologic and sidereal, similar to Robert Bringhurst’s sense of holy inhabitation in his essay “Breathing Through the Feet”. Even though he writes, “this world can only be as large as this pond’s contentment”, Domanski’s metaphorical field is huge and wired to connect all the stars: “slow burn of séance / into séance solar heat stung into rock and flesh/ chemical ghosts curled clockwise asleep in the tan”.
He portrays his cosmologies with a quiet tone and humility. All Our Wonder Unavenged is a mature collection, concerned with mortality and a grief which is universal, not a fetish of the ego. The word “grief ” tolls through the poems, goblin of the lexicon, and “Braille” figures in his metaphors, perhaps his hint that his vision is difficult to translate.
…I lean on
a memory of stars which is like leaning on silk
the folds of it collapsing into self-regard
the secretive pride in loving what can’t be owned
(“Leaning on Silk”)
Later, Domanski situates his cornucopia of animals within a religious context, clarifying his reverence:
they are nations the Koran says of the animals
and I believe it a kinship of being and knowing as deep as ours
as ancient as breath on the lips
and any meditation on this deepens our own being
humbles us before the cricket’s leg and the badger’s eye…
while microbes repeat their mantras to themselves
silent and drifting all woebegone and woken
all Buddhas of immeasurable light
(“All Our Wonder Unavenged”)
Eros appears as his muse in this collection, the son of Ares (War) and Aphrodite (Love), It is said that Eros, with Chaos, created all the birds. I can’t think of a better muse for Domanski. Like McKay and Borson, Domanski has the uncanny gift of making flora and fauna appear in our dreams with that Emily Dickinson “top of my head taken off” thrill: “the brawn of dragonflies”, “crows…winged and battle-dark among the loosening cosmologies.”
This stuff is so good I want it all the time; like Phyllis Rose complaining about Proust’s second-tier metaphors, I fancied myself a connoisseur of Domanski imagery:
tonight the thin ankles
of the porcupine glow
with the light of asylums
tonight Rome and all the Caesars
are finally enclosed in the folds
of the moth’s wing
Isn’t it obvious that the first stanza has that synaptic magic, while the second is largely rhetorical? However, let’s not overlook that Domanski is very good nearly all the time.
And several of these poems are masterpieces!: “In the Province of Tharsis” is set in an eerie and Earthly Mars! “The Silence of Remembered Time” is a fine meditative elegy on the dead — “Death’s juvenilia his cobbles his failed attempts/ at paving the stands of moonlight along a crust of ether/ his protracted experiments with crystal and asphalt”. “Leviathan” begins in an unremarkable narrative fashion but soon builds into a terrifying poem with pace and resonance.
In a few sequences -“Drowning Water”, ” A History of Sunlight”–Domanski loosens his usually taut lyricism and becomes more chatty, explicitly philosophical. These poems cut themselves off from his usual resources of line and stanza, and read more like paragraphs, their images often separated by tab-spaces. They are prosodically weak, because it’s impossible to achieve different speeds and twists purely out of the piling-on of appositive phrases.
Don Domanski is one of Canada’s finest poets and this book is essential if one wishes to appreciate his metaphysical reach. As Chad Walsh once said of the American poet Charles Olson, “… he was already living in the world of complex simultaneity, with its own and different order of logic…his centre of gravity seemed not to be in this globe, but a new and greater planet waiting for creation.”
Steve Noyes is the author of Ghost Country (Brick, 2006), and he teaches at Qingdao University, China.
1 Domanski, Don. Hammerstroke. Toronto: House of Anansi, 1986.
2 Bringhurst, Robert, “Breathing through the Feet: An Autobiographical Meditation.” Canadian Literature 105 (Summer 1985): 715.
3 In Rose, Phyllis. The Year of Reading Proust. Washington: Counterpoint, 1997.
4 Olson, Charles. Poetry and Truth. San Francusco: Four Seasons Foundation, 1971. Chad Walsh introduction.