Louise Bernice Halfe's latest poetry collection awâsis revels in rebellious merriment
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 & Feathers, Blue Marrow, The Crooked Good and Burning in this Midnight Dream.
Her latest poetry collection, awâsis – kinky and dishevelled, explores 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."
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."
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."
Louise Bernice Halfe's comments have been edited for length and clarity.