Be transformed: Don Domanski’s All Our Wonder Unavenged

p. *Brief Review*
bq. Don Domanski. [_All Our Wonder Unavenged_]. Toronto: Brick, 2007.

~ Harold Rhenisch

With the long lines and elegaic tones of “All Our Wonder Unavenged,” Domanski, arguably the best of Canadian poets, enters the territory of Charles Wright and W.S. Merwin, arguably the best of American ones, and shares with them the same strengths and weaknesses. The strengths include a complete identification with materiality that lifts it out of simple physicality, imagery that reaches into the spiritual fire of things (“the earth lying like a grain of wheat in a great barn”); a bittersweet sense of the limitations of the idea of the self (“you have nowhere to go, so you go,”); and an arresting freshness brought to a tradition that through most of its history has attempted to limit the present to the confines of the past. All three poets dwell in memory and explore its elusive territory as a process of renewal, made more poignant by its confrontation with a sense of complete temporal inconsequence outside of this lyrical act. One weakness that Domanski shares with these other masters of contemporary elegy include the danger of replacing so many rhetorical and cognitive terms with imagery, that the images at times appear interchangeable. This is the danger of becoming so earnest that the loss of the surprise at the reformulation of thoughts as images, and vice versa, is not adequately compensated by the energy gained from speaking from within their union. Luckily, it is not always so. In poems such as “A Lunar Hand Presses Spirit and Flesh,” for example, Domanski’s deft syntax-defying flashes of colour and movement demonstrate a Mouréan attention to the rhetoric of reading that returns the physical setting to the poem without reducing its transcendence to a late modernist narrative. Another weakness of the combined lyrical and elegaic method is that it can be lyrically precious. In his title poem, for example, Domanski writes of sparrows, noting that “their wings contain hollow bones where a pantheon could pass through/and they do…”, but then extends it for line upon line as he tries to capture all the echoes of this stone dropped into the pool of the world, noting “that is how they fly, / by allowing passage to earth’s beliefs / the little deities of the big thunder and the rain that falls.” The passage, which closes the first section of the poem, is haunting in its bardic purity, but disconnected enough to stumble into the outer gardens of “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” sentimentality. The poem continues, however, for five more sections and as it moves from fancy through meditation to contemplation, and eventually self-affirmation within the context of a protean universe, transcends this first stumble of lyrical excess to rescue itself admirably, becoming by its close a record of mind contemplating world from a sense of wonder. Visions like these, anchored in the body and beyond words, are, however incompletely, communicated through the imperfect medium of words. That Domanski succeeds through the imperfect form of lyric poetry is no less an achievement than St. John of the Cross or St. Theresa of Avila doing so through a screen of Catholic mysticism. This is a book to contemplate and to be transformed by.

fn0. _Arc_ 59, Winter 2008

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