The year 2021 will be a momentous one for Cree poet Louise Bernice Halfe – Sky Dancer, raised on Saddle Lake Reserve in Saskatchewan and based near Saskatoon.
Halfe has a new collection, awâsis – kinky and dishevelled, coming out this spring.
“awâsis means more than ‘child.’ It translates to ‘being lent a spiritual being’ – awâsis celebrates and helps us to laugh at ourselves and our follies,” says Halfe, who notes that her friend and mentor Jeff Wastesicoot provided this translation.
“These wawiyatâcimowinisa – funny little stories – arrived through numerous tongues and many different communities. I am deeply grateful to all those nechi – friends – who contributed to this text. They took delight in celebrating awâsis, the adult child within. I won’t name them but they will find their stories.”
awâsis – kinky and dishevelled includes a foreword in the form of a poem from Elder Maria Campbell in which she says,
Such power, Louise. I have never laughed so hard – and all by myself. / You are a healing storyteller wandering in from old kayâs long ago. This / is all about Indigenizing and reconciliation among ourselves. It’s the / kind of funny, shake-up, poking, smacking, and farting we all need while / laughing our guts out. And it’s beautiful, gentle, and loving.
Though this is Halfe’s fifth collection, she has worked hard to keep things fresh for herself as a writer and an Indigenous woman. Previous books, while sharp and witty, explored painful experiences like residential school life, but this one is pure fun.
“I attempt to have a new process for every piece of work I’ve embarked on,” Halfe says. “I want to honour the tribe – Cree from my home and heart base, the culture and the people from which I write.”
Also in 2021, new editions of Halfe’s previous collections, Burning in This Midnight Dream (2016) and Blue Marrow (1998), will be appearing with Brick Books and Kegedonce Press, respectively.
“I am ecstatic that these presses believe in the value of the work of previous books,” says Halfe. “The voice of the people continues to live and be heard.”
These titles were originally published by Regina’s Coteau Books, which closed its doors in February 2020 after 45 years.
“It is with sadness that I’ve accepted [Coteau’s] departure as they were very, very good to me,” says Halfe. “They’ve been the vehicle to many writers and people who’ve just begun their journey with written publications.”
While she’ll spend part of the year launching these three books, she will also be busy sorting through material for two pending manuscripts.
“I don’t yet have any idea what they are doing as it’s a collection of 30 years of work,” Halfe says.
And that’s not all: On February 3, 2021, Halfe was appointed Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate for a two-year term!
“There is a saying, ‘When you honour one, you honour all; when you shame one, you shame all,’” says Halfe. “I am deeply humbled that people/writers thought the writing that has surfaced from my heart, these hands, and the written word has received such wonderful accolades.”