Indigenous poet honoured by USask
- NC Raine | August 06, 2019
Saskatchewan-based poet and writer Louise Halfe started journaling as a teenager, but never imagined herself as an award-winning poet. A little later in life, though, an interesting thing happened that change the course of her career.
“I had a prophetic dream when I was in my twenties. And when I went into ceremony with my elders, they confirmed those prophetic dreams. I didn’t realize before (that I was meant to write),” said Halfe. “I was journaling and writing, but didn’t realize I was following those prophetic dreams. I guess it sunk in after my second book was published.”
Halfe, who was born in Two Hills, Alberta and now lives and works in Saskatoon, has become one of Saskatchewan’s most accomplished poets. She has four books of her poetry published, and has won numerous awards recognizing her for her work, including the prestigious Latner Writers’ Trust Award, the Hnatyshyn Foundation Reveal Award, and finalist for the Governor General’s Award for Poetry.
She is also the first Indigenous poet to have her work included in a standard Canadian poetry anthology, and served at Saskatchewan’s Poet Laureate in 2005.
What means the most to Halfe is having her work resonate with others.
“A lot of people don’t have the language to articulate what it is they need to express, all they know it is that they are hurting,” she said. “A lot of people have experienced a lot of shame for how they are feeling. So, my work allows them to let them know they’re not alone.”
When Halfe was 6-years-old, she was taken to Blue Quills residential school in Alberta. As a young adult, she moved to Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan with her husband, where she began studying social work at the University of Saskatchewan, with the desire to help people overcome their afflictions.
“There’s a lot of addiction in our community, and different kinds of trauma. A lot of people don’t have the tools they need to deal with those situations,” said Halfe.
Her poetry uses code-switching, alternating between English and Cree. She often writes about the importance of women and their stories, and incorporates Cree intellectual traditions in her poetry. Her work is the product of her experiences and her creativity.
“It’s always fuelled by personal experience. However, the creative process and the imagination kicks in when I’m creating as well. There’s always truth in the story, but the imagination is there,” she said.
Halfe said she wakes up between 4:30 and 6:00 AM to write, when distractions are absent. She lets a piece of work breathe after finishing it, so she’s able to see it with new eyes.
“You know when you fall in love with a person and you’re madly in love for a while? Then you sort of wake up to the reality of the relationship, and you sit back and let it grow. I’ll let a poem sit for several weeks, even months, before going back to it,” she said. “I’m too romantically in love with it, so I need to filter through those feelings before editing.”
This past May, the University of Saskatchewan announced that they were honouring Halfe with an Honorary Doctor of Letters for her contributions to poetry and Canadian culture.
“I was tickled when I found out. I am very honoured. I never expected anything like that,” she said.
Halfe has recently completed her fifth book, a humour-inspired book, titled Awasis: Kinky and Disheveled. It likely won’t be published for a couple years, but surely will continue to make waves in the Canadian literature scene.
“Humour inspires me right now,” she said. “It’s the healing medicine. I’ve gone a long way in my last four books of poetry, and I’m trying to make each book very different from the other.”