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Louise Bernice Halfe's latest poetry collection awâsis revels in rebellious merriment

The Cree poet spoke with Shelagh Rogers about her latest book.
awâsis — kinky and dishevelled is a poetry collection by Louise B. Halfe. The cover art was created by artist Sherry Farrell Racette. (Sherry Farrell Racette/Brick Books)

In 2021, Louise Bernice Halfe, whose Cree name is Sky Dancer, became Canada's ninth parliamentary poet laureate. Halfe is the first Indigenous person to be appointed with the title.

The Saskatoon poet, author and social worker, who has won accolades for weaving Cree language and teachings into her works, previously served as Saskatchewan's second poet laureate. Her poetry collections include Bear Bones & FeathersBlue MarrowThe Crooked Good and Burning in this Midnight Dream

Her latest poetry collection, awâsis – kinky and dishevelledexplores stories of resistance, rebellion and laughter by way of awâsis, a gender-fluid trickster character who takes readers on a humorous journey of mystery and spirituality.

Halfe spoke with Shelagh Rogers about why she wrote awâsis – kinky and dishevelled.

Humour as medicine

"Writing awâsis – kinky and dishevelled was a lot of fun. I asked community members to contribute their funny stories. Sometimes my husband would say, 'Are you sure you want to write that?' And I'd say, 'Of course, it's funny!' You have to learn to laugh at yourself. 

Stories have their own medicine: they show you how to think and problem solve and they guide you to that place.

"Stories have their own medicine: they show you how to think and problem solve and they guide you to that place. Then it's up to you to unravel that medicine. Of course, humour is a great medicine in my community."

For the first time in Canadian history, an Indigenous poet holds the position of parliamentary poet laureate. Louise Bernice Halfe, who’s also known by the Cree name Sky Dancer, grew up in Alberta and made a name for herself in Saskatchewan as the former poet laureate of the province. Halfe has published numerous works of poetry, including Blue Marrow for which she was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for poetry in 1998. She joined Tom Power to talk about the significance of her new position as parliamentary poet laureate, and how her life experiences as a residential school survivor and social worker have impacted her poetry. 17:00

awâsis and awakening

"Some people think awâsis means little child, but it's much more than that. It's the adult child within that's gifted with spirit. Children learn to laugh and carry on making up stories and whatnot. I decided awâsis was the trickster within ourselves because we're very good at that. We can trick ourselves into believing or not believing in some of our follies. 

She's a shapeshifter and gender-fluid because we don't have pronouns in Cree.

"awâsis came along and said, 'You know what? We're going to have fun.' She's a shapeshifter and gender-fluid because we don't have pronouns in Cree. Initially, when I was writing the manuscript, I would switch the pronouns all over the place, within the poetry. 

"Then I thought, 'I'm really getting confused myself, because I've learned how to use the 'he and she' properly.'

"But in Cree, there's no gender."

She grew up in Alberta watching her grandparents hide their sweatlodge, then attended Blue Quills residential school. Hear how and why Saskatoon's Louise Bernice Halfe is making history as Canada's first parliamentary poet laureate from an Indigenous community. 9:52

My life with laughter

"I delight with life. It's been a difficult journey and sometimes I still carry my entrails behind me. I want them to shut up and go, 'You know what? Quit bothering me. I'm moving on. Thank you very much.' Laughter's good medicine, and I look for places to laugh, especially among my own. 

Laughter's good medicine, and I look for places to laugh, especially among my own.

"I want to give people permission to have fun and to share those funny things that they find so embarrassing. I am sharing these stories. I appear in some of them, and I am not the least bit embarrassed. I've forgotten how to be embarrassed because I love to laugh — and I think, 'Oh jeez, I can't believe I did that.'

"It's just too funny."

The Saskatchewan poet talks about her new poetry collection, the damaging legacy of residential school, and her reconnection with her Cree roots. 12:49

Louise Bernice Halfe's comments have been edited for length and clarity.

 

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