Poetry Express: Louise Bernice Halfe – Sky Dancer

Louise Bernice Halfe, author. Photo courtesy alllitup.ca.



Renowned writer Louise Bernice Halfe, also known by the Cree name Sky Dancer, was named Canada’s new Parliamentary Poet Laureate in 2021. For National Poetry Month, we’re thrilled to celebrate Louise and her newly published books from two independent Canadian publishers.

awâsis – kinky and dishevelled (Brick Books) features a mischievous, unapologetic alter ego. awâsis (which means illuminated child) reveals herself through shapeshifting, adopting different genders, exploring the English language with merriment, and sharing his journey of mishaps with humor, mystery, and spirituality. A Holy Fool with their fly open, speaking Cree, awâsis came to Louise out of the ancient stories of her people, from the quiet words of the Elders, from community input through tears and laughter, from her own aching heart and her three-dimensional dreams. awâsis – kinky and dishevelled is a force of Indigenous resurgence, resistance, and soul-healing laughter.

Originally published more than twenty years ago,  Blue Marrow (Kegedonce Press) includes an all-new interview with the author. This collection highlights the voices of the Grandmothers, both personal and legendary. They share their wisdom, their lives, their dreams. They proclaim the injustice of colonialism, the violence of proselytism, and the horrors of the residential school system with an honesty that cuts to the marrow. Speaking in both English and Cree, these are voices of hopefulness, strength, and survivance. Blue Marrow is a tribute to the indomitable power of Indigenous women of the past and of the present day.

Read on for our interview with Louise where she talks to us about why she writes, how “poetry is in my language,” and about walking tours and seven-day canoe trips.

awâsis – kinky and dishevelled book cover, written by Louise Bernice Halfe. Photo courtesy alllitup.ca.

All Lit Up: What was it that drew you to poetry? Why do you write?

Louise Bernice Halfe – Sky Dancer: I started writing poetry when I was sixteen only at the time, I didn’t know I WAS writing poetry. I needed an outlet to express myself. 

I write to honour my grandparents who guided me in dreams to read and to write. In the process I am also honouring the Elder who prophesized this journey.

ALU: What has been your most unlikely source of writing inspiration?

LBH: First to inspire means to “breathe in” so the unlikely places are everywhere and anywhere. However, having said that while travelling in Rome for example I dreamt of ceremony from home. That dream wove itself into a poem. As well, when I was travelling throughout China I’ve written about their markets and their temples, woven through my poets. I actually have many examples of those “unlikely sources.” But at the moment, this is what I am inclined to share.

ALU: Has your idea of what poetry is changed since you began to write?

LBH: Though I’ve studied a bit of poetry none of the language or format stuck to my skin. Poetry is in my language, in the landscape I am in and walking and working with the spirit guides – the wind, the rock, the fire, the earth. One word in my language can take at least a page to dissect if not more and it is fully of the spiritual, the cosmos and this earth. Poetry is a condensed form of story-sharing, only it is full of images, emotions, intellect and the physical.

ALU: What are you most in the mood to read these days? Any poets you’re especially enjoying? 

LBH: I like to re-read and reflect on books I’ve read over the years on matters of philosophy and spirituality, etc. I also read a fair number of novels and take my time when reading the poetics. 

In the past I’ve loved reading the late Patrick Lane, and still dive into Tim Lilburn’s work as well as explore what Lorna Crozier is writing. I have enjoyed Ovide Mercredi’s gentle works, but sure-footed and reflective. Also my buddy Gregory Scofield. I read as much native literature as I can. 

ALU: Describe your ideal escape.

LBH: I live in the country, so my ideal escape is home. However, having said that for the last four years I have been walking in many parts of this province covering between sixty and over a hundred miles with a group of serious walkers organized by a fine man. He maps out the destination, trails, accommodations, historical sites and what have you. We bring our own camping gear and set up our tents at the end of each day. We have a support vehicle for the blistered feet, arthritic knees, etc. and they ferry us back to where we left off our cars/trucks, etc. I also love canoeing, seven-day canoe trips in the far north. We go with another couple who are well versed on the lakes/rivers and campsites.