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Paul Chanel Malenfant. Rue Daubenton.

Paul Chanel Malenfant. Rue Daubenton. Montreal. L'Hexagone. 2007. 146 pages. Can$17.95. ISBN 978-2-89006-796-7

RUE DAUBENTON is the sort of layered text one expects from a well-established poet like Paul Chanel Malenfant. The word "text" is operative because this work is at once poetry and prose, an arrangement reinforced by the prose poetry format. This paradoxical approach begins with the title and permeates the entire work.

The title refers to a residential street, which runs from rue Mouffetard to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris's Fifth Arrondissement. The text unfolds in front of a window that is "sans vue ... Elle s'ouvre en pleine lumiere propice a la pensee" (without a view. It opens onto a full light suitable for thought). Most events described are memories or imaginations that occur in other places where there is a view, including Bruges, Florence, and Geneva; however, this aspect of the narrative never establishes itself so cohesively as to turn the text into a travelogue or similar recit.

Nevertheless, the poems maintain a thematic cohesion through the recurring image of death. The text begins with the invitation (in the familiar "tu" form): "Imagine ainsi la mort--tous les lieux, en un seul lieu, enfin rassembles" (Imagine death this way--everyplace finally gathered into one single place), and it ends with eight "Lamentations." At different moments, the narrator discusses the tuberculosis death of a baby brother and the suicide of another. In the second instance, he describes the brother's twenty-story jump in a single sentence more than 45[degrees] words long. He even deals with his own mortality, for example realizing the significance of his age upon leaving a flower shop: "J'ai cinquante-cinq ans et ... il me reste moins de temps a vivre que je n'en ai vecu" (I'm fifty-five years old, and less time remains for me to live than I have already lived).


While death acts as the text's touchstone, the work hardly devolves into an unremitting dirge. To the contrary, the narrator's thoughts wander from the quotidian to the euphoric, often with unexpected playfulness or poignancy. In one case, he describes a neighbor who travels "avec ses doigts sur la carte geographique, comme une aveugle, d'un continent a l'autre. Je me plais a imaginer qu'elle se rend, de son index magique, a Zanzibar" (with her fingers on the geographical map, like a blind woman, from one continent to the other. I like to imagine her taking herself, with her magic index finger, to Zanzibar).

Paul Chanel Malenfant includes allusions to other poems and sayings throughout the text. At times, these are simply the title of another poem. He frequently incorporates short quotes as transitional insets, or as one-line citations within the poem proper. In the latter instance, the reader is sent to a page at the back of the book for the citation, in what seems to be a slightly pedantic exercise. That minor inconvenience aside, Rue Daubenton is at once a readable and nuanced text, clearly the work of a highly accomplished poet.

Steven Daniell

Auburn University at Montgomery
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Daniell, Steven
Publication:World Literature Today
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2007
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