Louise Halfe's fourth book tackles tough subject
- Andréa Ledding | April 27, 2016
Louise Halfe is getting ready to launch her fourth poetry book, Burning In This Midnight Dream, which explores residential school memories and healing from trauma.
“My first book (Bear Bones and Feathers) ties in with Burning In This Midnight Dream because it's about the after-effects of residential school,” said Louise in a phone interview. “It's about explaining the behaviour and why people behave the way they do because of residential school: but also accepting the responsibility of oneself after the effects, after the fact, and that's the difficult part of recovery.”
This fourth book was extremely hard to write, heart-wrenching because it was a lot of soul-digging.
“I've been working on it since the last book was published in 2007; it's been a long journey. It talks about lateral and horizontal violence, what people do to each other and what people do to themselves, and the recovery process as well, towards healing.”
She relied on ceremony, the sweat lodge, and talking to supportive people or getting professional help when needed, including past psychotherapy sessions. There she received non-confrontational and non-judgmental listening, the same tools needed to be good listeners or good readers, she notes.
“We have to validate the darkness within each other in order to try and move ahead. By listening to another person’s story we're validating their existence, their hurt and their pain,” noted Louise. “Readers need to know what is being triggered, and examine what is being triggered, and if they find some good, to use that goodness to heal.”
Did she ever think poetry would open the doors it has for her, as a former provincial Poet Laureate? She replied that in her youth, she never thought she’d step off the reserve.
“My big dream was to leave the reservation, but I didn’t realize, it would be more than one way I would do so,” she said, adding that her world became huge. “I've gone to U.K., England, Wales, Scotland, the Hebrides, and Italy three times, Australia three times, Malaysia, China, Africa, Germany — these are places people dream about. I’ve been very fortunate as a writer to be invited to all these places.”
This has taught her to always be open to other peoples’ teachings, always examining what is speaking to her or triggering her in other people’s stories so that she can work at repairing her own life. She’s worked through a lot to write difficult material.
“I think it's really important if people find they're being triggered by texts that they find someone to talk to, to look at their own issues arising from the text,” she added, saying after-care is essential. “It's like going to a movie that's triggered you left, right, and centre, what do you do with that information? If you go to a theatre and you've been triggered by the content there, what do you do with that info from that dramatic piece? It's like any other art form; I'm responsible for myself so I must look after my self-care.”
Good work triggers people in their unresolved issues in all kinds of ways, she noted.
“Even beautiful art will provoke some sort of reaction, even if it brings you to tears because it's so beautiful. Good art does that to you, it triggers you in some form or another and it doesn't have to be in a negative way. I've cried with beautiful sunsets, the magnitude of God's power is so incredible that I just cry.”
Her gift of having Cree as her first language is something she falls back on all the time, especially when struggling to articulate something in English that sounds too telling.
“There's a lot of metaphor in Cree language, one word can mean many things,” she said, adding that for those who don’t have their language, perseverance and humility can help them grow in it, something she’s practiced in using English all her life. She urges those interested in writing or poetry to critically read and write all they can. Patrick Lane is one example for her who has written many intimate poems from his life, inspirationally giving her permission to bravely do the same.
“And know that I'm not alone in my past craziness, that I'm not the same person I was thirty years ago. That people need to update and not judge that person by their past,” she noted. “When I listen to Elders talk in the past, they talk about their lives as a teaching method so that the younger generation don't make those same mistakes. They use themselves as examples. So poetry is a form of that, in a way.”
- Cree Protocol for Ceremony, part one of a four part series
- Cree Protocol for Ceremony, part two of a four part series
- Cree Protocol for Ceremony, part three of a four part series
- Cree Protocol for Ceremony, part four of a four part series