Sunday, August 8, 2010

Don Domanski's All Our Wonder Unavenged

When Don Domanski, in 2007's All Our Wonder Unavenged, sticks to phenomenological transmission, his gently vatic voice gains that authority through the erasure of observer and observed, and the merging of different sentient beings, even insentient objects into elements ("the street like a greenhouse drifting gradually out to sea" from "An Old Animal Habit") , while avoiding (a tremendous feat!) the perils that Tim Lilburn often succumbs to by way of hopped-up and distorted imagery, dramatic murkiness, and transpositional antics. Lines gather spiritual force by subtle metaphor, tantalizing atmospherics, and honest cadence. There're too many out-of-time snippets to quote here. A few examples may give a hint, at least, though I do a disservice to the integrity of the poems they're culled from: "hard to see the inlay of ghosts in the spider's web/or sense the sleepers shining back from the other side" ("In the Dream of the Yellow Birches"); "quiet up here among the colourless wands of spruce/moths tracing thin bracelets in the air" ("A Trace of Finches").

When the author superimposes spiritual commentary on life-as-awe, things go south. It's not just that the reader is subjected to this unnecessary framework, but that the traditional spiritual truths revealed are badly formed, even wrongfully detailed. "Ars Poetica", as the name suggests, is loaded with these "statements". "but never scribble/a single sentence that will be weightless and endure//behind our backs words sign-off": I don't understand this contradictory belief. If all our words perish, what of the vast, epistemic spiritual record that even Domanski himself learns from and cherishes? If the answer is that the word only points to enlightenment, there's no argument here, as reality is relative and absolute. "to write is to enter the rehearsals of solitude": it's the other way around. It's been my experience, backed up by the same spiritual sources Domanski details, that silence (I'm assuming "silence" can stand in here for "solitude", though if not, I'm wrong and Domanski would have been better off choosing a much different word) is the ever-present stateless bedrock and precursor to creativity (writing, in this context). "what takes me through the field takes me home eventually/to the blank page": continuing with this same line of thought, "what takes me through the field" is a silent meditation, if I'm to read the poet aright (and I think I do in this case -- Domanski is skilled at constructing a cohering metaphysic), so there would be no sequential crossover involved since the same meditational quality would be the impetus for sitting down "to the blank page". A "rehearsal" would mark a duality, however subtly it's experienced. From the titular poem, "Cling to unity the Taoists said over and over" shockingly contradicts what many have suggested the philosophy of Buddhism can be accurately reduced to: "no clinging". 'Killing the Buddha when you meet him on the road' is purposely provocative so's to drive the point home. (Buddhism and Taoism, though culturally and tempermentally different, nevertheless cohere in core precepts, and Domanski reveres, and alternates between, the two allusive formations.)

I enjoyed the trip but not the (occasionally) intrusive speaker. I always did prefer choirs or musical soloists to the confession booth or the pulpit.


Zachariah Wells said...

Image has always been Domanski's forte and rhetoric his weakness. The sad thing about his oeuvre is that it's drifted more and more towards the latter. Most of his bloated, meandering long poems contain a handful of lines so gorgeous one wishes they'd been left to stand on their own.

Brian Palmu said...

That encourages me to check out his earlier work.