Writer in Residence

A Wolf at the Dog Show

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If you’re reading this article you are no doubt familiar with the names of major publishers and their imprints—Penguin Random House, Harper Collins, Knopf, Mcclelland and Stewart, etc.  You might well be familiar with some of the more prominent Canadian-owned publishers such as House of Anansi, Biblioasis, Coach House Press, and ECW.  You might even know a few of the excellent but smaller literary houses like Invisible Publishing and Anvil Press. 

Now think smaller.  Much, much smaller.

I’m talking about the micro-presses, as they are sometimes called, although I prefer to just call them tiny presses.  They are almost all one-person operations.  The layouts are done on home computers and the binding (often with needle and thread) at the kitchen table.  Most of these presses publish chapbooks of poetry, but short stories, memoirs, and far less definable forms are also produced.  They might produces dozens of titles a year or just one or two.   And they often produce terrific work.

Beside my desk I’ve got six file boxes full of tiny press publications.  Many of them I’ve bought at the annual Meet the Presses fair in Toronto (sadly cancelled this year) but I’ve also purchased some online.  My own favourite tiny presses are Baseline Press, Apt. 9 Press, Puddles of Sky Press, and above/ground.  And then there’s the press that I run, espresso, along with my partners Rebecca Comay and Bernard Kelly.  (If you want to see the chapbooks that we produce, you can go to our website at espresso-chapbooks.com.)  The reason I’m writing about it today is because of Covid 19.

When the pandemic struck, we were working on our next chapbook.  Because launches are an important way for us to celebrate and sell our books, we decided to delay the publication in the hope that a launch could be held in a few months time (not true, as it turned out).  But we wanted to do something to cheer ourselves and our authors up.  So we decided to produce a small anthology.  We asked all our past contributors for a couple of pages of new work—poetry, fiction, memoir, whatever—that we could bring together as a way of thanking them for being a part of our press.  We received quite wonderful work from Jane Munro and Maureen Scott Harris and JonArno Lawson and others and produced Works for Now: an espresso anthology with a Zoom launch last month.  I know many of us are a bit Zoomed out, yet it was just great to hear so many writers read their work and to feel that we had found a way to come together.

One of the poets included in the anthology was Don Domanski.  I had long been a fierce admirer of his gorgeous, animistic poems and was thrilled when he let us publish his chapbook, Fetishes of the Floating World, in 2015.  And equally thrilled that he sent us a poem for the new book. And I was so saddened to hear that Don Domanski died on Monday.         

Don lived in Nova Scotia and so I only met him once.  It was a few years ago, at the Harbourfront Festival in Toronto.  When I heard he was in the room, I just had to go and shake his hand.  Back in 1991 I had reviewed his book Wolf Ladder for The Globe and Mail, along with the other nominees for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry that year. I wrote:  “With no disrespect meant to the other poets, giving this book the Governor General’s Award would be like telling a wolf he’s just won first prize at a dog show.”  I worked my way through the crowded room until I spotted Don’s large, bearded face.  I told him who I was and how much I loved his poems.  Don looked at me, quoted the line about the dog show, and then wrapped his arms around me in an enormous hug.

And so I get to the real point of this piece: to remember and celebrate Don Domanski, one of the country’s great poets.  Here are a few lines from his poem, “Small Hours,” published in Works for Now:

     This is the longhand of holy writ

     rising from the gloaming

     like dandelions pushing up through

     the soil   each a spiritual gesture

     each like the Buddha overcoming his fear

     of death and decay   like the Desert

     Fathers tracking sand through all the

     halls of paradise.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.