Domanski, Don Rusu

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Nationality: Canadian. Born: Sydney, Nova Scotia, 29 April 1950. Family: Married Mary M. Meidell in 1969. Awards: Canadian Literary award, 1999.



The Cape Breton Book of the Dead. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 1975.

Heaven. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 1978.

War in an Empty House. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 1982.

Hammerstroke. Toronto, House of Anansi Press, 1986.

Wolf-Ladder. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1991.

Stations of the Left Hand. Toronto, Coach House Press, 1994.

Parish of the Physic Moon. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1998.

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Uniquely among Canadian poets, Don Domanski puts surrealism at the service of meditation. His poems typically dwell in the midst of dream, sleep, night, and shadow, and they are marked by spare punctuation, smooth cadences, and quietly aphoristic endings. The effect is that of some mystical vade mecum or atlas of the spirit.

The devices and imagistic apparatus remain traditional. Domanski is especially fond, for example, of insects and spiders. In "A Spider Standing Nude before a Mirror," from Hammerstroke, the feminine subject

   … was made in the shape of Rome
   that city of spiders and the gods of spiders
   and the spidery light of dead things
   drifting down to paradise

Indebted to surrealism as it is, Domanski's work does not display the wild scribblings of the unconscious, even though at times he is guilty of overreaching, as in "Necropolis" from his first collection, The Cape Breton Book of the Dead: "the rat's stomach is opened to the stars / a nebula placed in its bowel." Usually, however, his poems are descriptively apposite, and they are sometimes anchored to actual places. In "A Town of Weights," from Hammerstroke, he writes of Wolfville, Nova Scotia:

   last night the souls of the dead
   were thrown back into their bodies
   and allowed to fly one more time
   around the town
   their eyes rouged with roses
   their feet painted with ale

Moreover, Domanski's version of surrealism is inflected with implied moral values. In "The Farm at Four A.M."

   in the barn there are
   two hogs hanging
   from black ropes in the air
   they are the old weights
   the old judgments against us

Likewise, in "Flies," from The Cape Breton Book of the Dead, he observes that

   they arrive with a talent like men
   for living
   for carrying their purpose to its extreme

Domanski's style and preoccupations have altered little since his first book. In it are found the flashes of wit that recur in subsequent collections. In "Old Women" he notes that

   only the wedding ring or the coffin
   bring them together like this
   to share a darkening room
   Only these two objects
   flush them out of the tall grass
   where they hide (drowned sparrows)
   from the rock and the tom cat

Domanski often concerns himself with dystopias, utopias, deities, and visible and invisible cities. In "Bat Song," from Heaven, he says that "among the emplacement of stars / heaven dreams its amorous skin." Always present are the timeless processes of transformation, often seen through the vehicle of dreams. In "Dreamtime," from War in an Empty House, he says that

   in sleep there are many diners
   where Cathars drink the coffee your mother
   made for you twenty years before

In "Close of Day," from Hammerstroke, he describes how a woman

   … turns a square knob
   on the radio
   and instantly the apples
   darken in their bowl

Domanski's poems are never explicitly autobiographical, and Parish of the Physic Moon, his 1998 collection, exhibits not his personal, individual self as a universal Self that encompasses everyone. When the poet uses the first person, it is the mystical "I," at once everyone and no one. A consequence is that his poems often have great beauty but a certain interchangeability, even monotony, although this is relieved at moments by marvelously right images, as in "Writing," the book's opening poem:

   in vacant office towers
   across town elevators are stables where horses and hay
   are lowered slowly to the Underworld
   cables surrounded by a pause in this poem
   allow for their descent.

Domanski puts strong emotions—grief, anger, joy—in his work, but they are woven into a cosmological tapestry of life, death, and eternity. The following lines are from "Sleep's Ova":

   I was born because millions of years ago communities
   grew out of ponds    because ponds need a way to
   say goodbye
   because I'm always saying goodbye and so are you

In "Child of the Earth," the book's last poem, Domanski sums up his vision of the self, first noting that

   so many selves make up the nightly routine so many
   fall with the snow upon, drown in the wintry sea

but concluding that the wind will

   blow your particles into empty space
   O empty space this is the selfall worlds the single place.

—Fraser Sutherland