Foxholes at the Borders of Sofa Cushions, The

31 May 2023

The Foxholes at the Borders of Sofa Cushions
by Counce Brampton
Published by Your Nickel’s Worth Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$19.95 ISBN 9781988783994

They say it’s about the journey, not the reward. In the literary world, the reward might be considered the publication of a book. For Saskatoon poet Counce Brampton, a “quiet observer of life” who’s lived most of his adulthood in a group home (as a result of OCD and other mental health issues), my sense is that it’s always been about the journey, yet his first poetry collection, The Foxholes at the Borders of Sofa Cushions, has been published, and it opens with a generous introduction by his friend and mentor, internationally-revered writer Yann Martel.

Martel began meeting with Brampton when the former was serving as writer-in-residence at the Saskatoon Public Library twenty years ago. The Life of Pi author quickly gleaned that Brampton wasn’t seeking “editorial guidance but affirmation and validation”. Martel continues to provide that today, and explains that “This book is the result of a wish to safeguard what is essentially Counce Brampton’s life work, the mark he will leave”.

Interestingly, the poems appear next to images of their first incarnations, handprinted in Brampton’s coiled notebook. Where words or lines were struck from the first draft, they appear with strikelines on the typed pages, as well. Martel’s editing is deliberately slight: “What we have here are the spontaneous workings of [Brampton’s] mind, the words and phrases that strike him, the ideas that spring fully formed and those that evolve from one draft to the next”.

I’m immediately drawn to the first poem’s strong images and sensory details. “In the Back of a Seaport Tavern,” includes “A seal’s corpse on a woodplank/gouged and steaming like fresh asphalt” and “An old bedspring against the yardfence/rusted and corrupted by old sea salt”. The idea of a bedspring being “corrupted” is inspired.

The poems feel like dreamspeak, like journal entries. Line are repeated throughout, but “The repetition is part of the spell,” Martel writes. “The point here is not destination but movement, a ramble through language.”

We see the poet experimenting on the page: some lines—and even words—are left incomplete. The piece “In a room filled with dim ghostlight” (great title) begins thus:

In a room filled with ghostlight

In a room filled with dim ghostlight

In a dim filled

The second line reappears—like a ghost—across the next two pages, or contains slight variation: “In a room filled with nothing and dim ghostlight”.

On one page, “when” is the sole word. Another of the briefest offerings is an untitled list of five words: doorway/streetlight/fender/seashell/drum. Other poems do indeed “ramble through language,” and what gorgeous language it sometimes is: “The sun shone down/with a light, italian orange sustenance/on all the townspeople”. And “the full moon made of fresh pale stone”. I admire “all our hands held the dust of dreams and crumbled icons” (from “Of failure”).

The book’s beautifully produced. The cover is a photo of a worn leather couch in tall grass beside a river. Logical? Perhaps not, but like Brampton’s work, it’s compelling all the same.


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