Bite Down Little Whisper is a lush and resonant collection about the spirit and science of the natural world. It encompasses Taoism, Greek mythology, Egyptology, and the Celts, all seasoned with a sensibility steeped in the rugged Canadian East Coast, where author Don Domanski has long resided. Domanski has established himself as one of Canada’s most original and consistent poets, and Bite Down Little Whisper further enhances that status. The book has been shortlisted for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award in English-language poetry.
Numerous critics have remarked on Domanski’s talent for lucid metaphors. He draws connections that continually surprise, yet make immediate sense. In “A Bright Fable in a Dark Wood,” he writes vividly of “sunlight falling on its sword in a hayfield.” Elsewhere he has us conjure a “coyote the colour of Pythia’s vapour” (for those who may need a refresher on the more obscure references, there are notes included at the back). Equally essential to Domanski’s work, though much less discussed, is its dynamism. From the title on down, so many of the lines are about movement, birth, growth, decay, or destruction.
Domanski’s writing is so energetic and spirographic it cannot be cast simply as an extension of sentimental nature poetry. On the contrary, this book shrugs with a monkish detachment, defers to science over a possibly mythical Creator, and locates tension in unbalanced forms. The presentation is undeniably contemporary: irregular lines, chock-a-block with enjambment, and minimal use of capitalization or punctuation.
Bite Down Little Whisper is haunting and re-readable. The cover, to which Domanski contributed, is a useful indicator of what lies ahead: if you are capable of deep appreciation of everything from sleeping stags to Venn diagrams, Domanski’s verse offers great riches.