The Poetry of Sky Dancer Louise Bernice Halfe
“I build this story like my lair. One willow, / a rib at a time”
— “The Crooked Good”
Since 1990, Sky Dancer Louise Bernice Halfe’s work has stood out as essential testimony to Indigenous experiences within the ongoing history of colonialism and the resilience of Indigenous storytellers. Sôhkêyihta includes searing poems, written across the expanse of Halfe’s career, aimed at helping readers move forward from the darkness into a place of healing.
Halfe’s own afterword is an evocative meditation on the Cree word sôhkêyihta: Have courage. Be brave. Be strong. She writes of coming into her practice as a poet and the stories, people, and experiences that gave her courage and allowed her
to construct her “lair. ” She also reflects on her relationship with nêhiyawêwin, the Cree language, and the ways in which it informs her relationships and poetics.
The introduction by David Gaertner situates Halfe’s writing within the history of whiteness and colonialism that works to silence and repress Indigenous voices. Gaertner pays particular attention to the ways in which Halfe addresses, incorporates, and pushes back against silence, and suggests that her work is an act of bearing witness – what Kwagiulth scholar Sarah Hunt identifies as making Indigenous lives visible.
In this collection, Halfe’s fierce and incandescent poetry and voice, which have resonated with readers since the 1990s, are amplified and (if possible) intensified by her biographical afterword, in which she charts her writing life, her work to address legacies of pain, and a process of “spiritual enlightenment, intellectual observation, and emotional healing. ” The collection is also made all the more powerful by the foreword by settler scholar David Gaertner.
Sôhkêyihta is an especially crucial collection for educators, scholars, and readers of Canadian poetry. Halfe offers readers a rich process through which to begin and continue to contend with the horrors and injustices that underpin settler colonialism in Canada.- Renée Jackson-Harper, Canadian Literature 238