For International Women’s History Month we feature Sky Dancer, Louise B. Halfe. Her celebrated poetry collections Bear Bones and Feathers, Burning in this Midnight Dream, Blue Marrow, and The Crooked Good have earned many awards and accolades. Sky Dancer served as the second poet laureate for Saskatchewan in 2005 and has just finished her tenure as the 2022 Parliamentary Poet Laureate for Canada.
A member of the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, Halfe attended the Blue Quills residential school when she was young. Her poetry reflects on the history and experiences of Indigenous peoples; on colonialism, residential schools, and inter-generational trauma. But her writings always carry themes of hope, healing, recovery and reconnection to ancestral language and tradition.
Sky Dancer joined Kegedonce Press’s list of authors in late 2020. Earlier that year, Coteau Books, her previous publisher, sadly closed its doors. Sky Dancer reached out to us to put two of her classic poetry collections, Blue Marrow and The Crooked Good, back into print.
Both books place a strong emphasis on the strength of women and their experiences of colonialism and patriarchy. Much of the long poem of Blue Marrow is voiced by Grandmothers, both past and present, real and legendary. The Crooked Good traces the story of ê-kwêskît, Turn-Around-Woman, a story paralleled by the legend of Rolling Head Woman. The poems are a tribute to the lives, the hopes and the dreams of Indigenous women, and to their indomitable power.
In her interview with Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm in our new edition of Blue Marrow, Halfe spoke about the women in her poetry:
“I wanted to give them voice. Because increasingly, we’re up against our men. We’re trying to find our voice and our place. I also wanted to ask those particular Grandmothers, What was it like for you to be married to a settler? Because I’m married to a settler. I needed to understand where they were coming from. … I wanted to go inside their skin and find out what it was like for many of our women way back then. And, really, the dynamics are not very much different from today.”
Sky Dancer is also a strong advocate of language learning and preservation, and her poetry is threaded throughout with Cree names, words, phrases and some whole verses in Cree. She comments on this in the same interview:
“It’s not only preservation of the language, it’s also to create a dialogue with people who don’t speak the language, whether they are native or settlers. If they are stuck, they will find somebody who will help them along the way. The other point that I wanted to make is that often I will come across a phrase or a statement or a word in a foreign language that I don’t understand and often there is no interpretation of that word. I, as a reader, I have to guess. So I figure tit for tat. If they can do it, we can do it.”
Though the books include Cree/English glossaries, the use of Cree is intended to extend the conversation about, and learning of, the language beyond their pages.
We at Kegedonce Press had a marvellous time working on Blue Marrow and The Crooked Good. As we had no digital copies of the books to work from, they had to be typed up by hand before the publication process could begin—it was an opportunity to closely read these simply brilliant poetry collections.
We then reached out to two talented Indigenous artists, Leah Dorion and Keevin Peeace, who provided the cover art for Blue Marrow and The Crooked Good, respectively. Our wonderful layout designer, Chantal Lalonde, took those amazing cover images and used selections from them to beautify the interior pages. We love these gorgeous new editions of Sky Dancer’s classic poetry collections!
You can see and hear Sky Dancer reading from Blue Marrow and The Crooked Good on the Kegedonce Press YouTube Channel.