Some people found the talks of Don Domanski enlightening. As with any writers festival talk, you never know what will happen next. Perhaps one writer will tell another “You don’t like animals?! I love animals. You’re going to Hell.” Or it all might go along rather more sociably.
Domanski spoke with Rob Winger on April 15 about the poet’s role in society and then in a second discussion on panel with Stephen Brockwell, Alison Pick and Anne Simpson later that evening. (I’m amalgamating the two here.)
In short, on the question of the role of poet, Domanski felt the role was to point away from individual lives and minutiae of any given time, place, society into the big picture which is nature, the universe, to attend to biology.
By biology he made clear he didn’t mean the biology of our own genitals but to our small place in the universe as humans. We must attend to the natural world in order to extend our own consciousness beyond ourselves and grow in spirit thru poetry which reaches for universal truth.
He said, if one extends ones arms to the sides (as he made Rob Winger do), the whole of human history on the grand timeline would be erased if one took a single stroke of an emory board to one finger.
His presentation style was as grand as his polished cane and jewelry. At one point he totally lost his place in the lecture he was giving. His aside of “where the hell am I now?” was a marked register change, the first laugh he got, breaking out of his incantation-style of lecture.
Quite an interesting thing, his polish and his cracks. He said his dad had always wanted him to follow him into science but he became a poet, to his dad’s disappointment; there’s an advantage in disappointments.
He talked a lot about sitting on stones and watching birds, a far more rewarding activity he said than the nonsense we can fill our lives with, watching Oprah, shopping for purses or being concerned about the state of our stomachs or genitals. He seemed, and I don’t think I was alone in picking up on this underlying belief of his, contemptuous of anything but the long view of the universe.
There were some chuckles as he made quips, such as, in the context of separating personal experience, self, the contemporary politics and notions, to get to divine connection of nature thru mindfulness, he was asked about the place of ego and self in poems about distance from self. “Do I still have an ego?” (dramatic pause, checks his own pulse) “yep, still got it.”
He said poetry has to be more than pollyanna. Poetry needn’t make us feel good, needn’t be the “the ecstasy of dogs running”. When we study anything we reach into the separation and loneliness that is part of existence. He didn’t invoke ying yang per se but suggested the dual nature of nature. We are trying to balance ego, (which can become dogma, cherished self and our own being centered in our tangible lives) with the plentitude of the universe and its time, space, form and mystery.
By writing with this part of the brain that he said is uniquely human, that can create comparisons and metaphors, we can bridge the dark chasm between meanings, open up, through comparisons and metaphor and make a light. Citing Emerson’s ideas he said, as each word was once a unique understanding of the world, a poem, through poems, we can try to create new understandings.
We, in writing, he said, try to unclog of preconceptions, precepts of what a poem is, away from censor of reason and culture. As an aside he assured that this is not easy. It is exceedingly difficult. What’s more it is a seditious act to observe, open mind and hearts in these political times. It is subversive to reach for mindfulness, the sacred umbilical poem. It is a difficult process to enter a room and observe it, rather than begin to make opinions on the room and read implications from it.
In his view, poetry is about practicing mindfulness, is an exercise of meditation, impartial observation, not to draw attention to yourself, but point beyond yourself. He related how in Buddhism they remind: do not mistake the finger pointing at the moon for the moon itself. It is easy to fall to fingerism. Poetry should be, not politics, sides, stylistics and prizes, but something broader for change, and elevating.
He talked at length about nature and universal and learning to let poems come in the form they will take, and get out of their way, something new poets don’t understand. Young poets decide what they will talk about, a mountain, say, and if I river comes, they don’t follow it.
Winger asked him, can you find mindfulness and wonder outside of nature, say in Oprah or pop tarts? (which Domanski had earlier disparaged as being flaky and not worthy of a life’s attention). Domanski answered “My wonder would be in filling Oprah with pop tarts…(pause)… but I’m getting therapy for that.”
Much better pictures of him from the fest here.
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