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Dans la proximité des choses , by Paul Chamberland

Dans la proximité des choses - Paul Chamberland

I bought this book in Montreal (one of my favorite cities) in 1999, placed it on a shelf and forgot about it completely. Quite by accident I found it again today and, intrigued at the unexpected discovery, paged through it to see why I bought it in the first place, since the author was completely unfamiliar to me. The answer was quite clear to me after a few pages, and I congratulate my younger self for having purchased this little gem.


According to Wikipedia, Paul Chamberland is a québécois poet and essayist with a quite substantial bibliography. The poems in this thin volume remind me strongly of certain Chinese and Japanese poets I love, though I have no idea if Chamberland had them in mind or even knows of them.


The first half of the text consists of very short, intensely observed moments. (These surely were my original motive for purchasing the book.) Though none of the poems seem to be of a classical Chinese or Japanese form (the second one quoted below is almost a haiku), they bring to mind such poetry. However, these poems are certainly not some amateur's imitation of classic poems, neither in language nor in topic. Though Chamberland does write intensely observed moments from Nature:



Le ciel est un lait pour l'oeil

et les rafales du vent fou jettent

aux pièces d'eau des confettis dorés.


he also brings the haiku into the modern city:


Dans l'absolue non-hâte

- azur et verrerie -

l'instantané scintille aux branches.


If you don't see a sudden moment of perception in a big-city square, as I do, then there is also a poem about a moment waiting for a bus, and another walking down Sainte-Catherine Street in Montreal. And here is a rather non-classical poem:


Par terre dans le sentier,

émeraude obsidienne,

ce brasillant joyau

- des mouches sur une merde -

au pas levé s'éparpille.


Sorry, but there is nothing disgusting about this poem; on the contrary, Chamberland has succeeded, in my view, in making a disgusting object into a beautiful poem! But, not to worry, he is not interested in épater la bourgeoisie in this book and your tender sensibilities won't be violated too often.


Indeed, here is a poem at whose subject the classic poets I have in mind could nod in recognition:


Les lilas viennent...

Ah! Cette flammefraîche aux branches puis très vite

la braise et pour finir la cendre,

laissée aux coups de vent,

retombée au compost, au passé.


The second half of the book contains a few longer poems and some fairly short prose-poems, which I won't quote here because of their length. But they, too, are largely descriptive. In this book, at least, Chamberland does not engage in poetic abstractions (think anti-John Ashberry) nor does he make mere rhetorical gestures. Not that poetic abstractions or rhetorical gestures are always to be avoided! I must try to find some more of Chamberland's books.