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High Plains Book Awards finalist: ‘awȃsis — kinky and dishevelled’ by Louise B. Halfe - Sky Dancer

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“awȃsis — kinky and dishevelled” by Louise B. Halfe (Sky Dancer, her Cree name, also appears on the cover), is a finalist for this year’s High Plains Book Award in Poetry. The collection of short narrative poems features a poetic introduction by Marie Campbell, who highlights the collection’s blend of humor and sacred story and directly addresses Halfe: “Louise. . . / You are a healing storyteller” (xiii).

The son or daughter of Sky Woman in Cree tradition, awȃsis (the name always appears in italics without an initial capital) proves difficult to pin down, appearing as male in some poems, female in others, and not uncommonly as an amalgam of animal and human characteristics. Halfe’s use of shifting gender markers reflects the Cree language, which has no gender-specific pronouns.

Though, as Campbell notes, the collection builds on a tradition passed on by generations of Cree storytellers, the poems incorporate contemporary references to powwows, cars, and fast food; for example in “Birding Around,” Croaking Crow and companions “. . . flew in crews to torn chip bags / gobbling French fries, half-eaten sandwiches” 43). For Halfe, timeless does not mean disconnected from present realities. Nor does she limit the sources of her “funny little stories,” acknowledging that the source tales “arrived through numerous tongues and many different communities” (71).

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The title character is surrounded by other mythic, composite beings, with which he/she indulges in friendly banter, inuendo, and sexual relations. As suggested by the title, the humor can be raunchy at times, though never mean-spirited. Campbell twice references Halfe’s ability to induce laughter, and the poems bear out her claim.

The collection is peppered with words from the Cree language, accompanied by translation glosses the first time they appear; it would perhaps be more useful to include a glossary at the end, where words appearing in widely spaced poems could be conveniently referenced.

Halfe – Sky Dancer has earned many accolades for her work, including a term as Saskatchewan’s Poet Laureate. It’s easy to see why, given these whimsical and resonant narratives full of transformation, wit, and poetic energy.

Bernard Quetchenbach teaches literature and writing at Montana State University Billings.

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