Louise Halfe has published 4 books of poetry with Coteau Press. Miranda Pearson spoke with Louise about her latest collection Burning in this Midnight Dream.
MP: In your book Burning in the Midnight Dream you very bravely “go into the darkness” behind the exterior of truth and reconciliation. I thought it was an incredibly generous and beautiful work, despite much of the tragic content. In the end I was left with a feeling of love but much of it must have been extremely hard to write, especially when it came to the family violence. Can you tell me about the title?
LH: The title is taken from one of the poems, and the words contain a lot of metaphor. Yes, writing it was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve ever taken on. It took its toll. At times I had to walk away from it and having finished it I feel exhausted.
MP: The photos in the book are beautiful, I’m wondering if you felt the spirits of any of these people while you were writing about them. What role do dreams play in your work? Also can you speak to any use of ceremony or ritual that you use in writing?
LH: No, I didn’t really hear their spirits, I think mainly because the book is my story, not theirs. In previous works “the Crooked Good” and “Blue Marrow”, I have, but not in this one. Dreams play a big part, they often work their way into my poetry. I also listen to the way others talk; we don’t realize how often we talk in poetry. I start the day with blessing myself with sage and sweet grass. I usually work in long hand and then put it onto the computer.
MP: You mention in the workshop description that you encourage students to “write without fear”, can you say a bit more about that?
LH: Fear is mental bock. I try and help students recognize their fears and what might be preventing them from writing from a deeper context. I ask them to get to know each other before hand so as to develop some trust. We work in a circle, and I help them problem solve and brainstorm. I want them to feel safe and ask them how we can do this. I think coming from a social worker background helps in this regard.
MP: I see you worked with Tim Lilburn as an editor for the new book. Can you talk about the editing process?
LH: I shared the work with a few people I trust. In Cree the past and present tenses sit more comfortably together so I did need help with editing as English is not my first language. Sometimes they’re literally translations.
MP: That’s so interesting, reminding me of the lines in your poems “I don’t like walking backwards…let me try that backward walk”. Do you practice any other art forms? Do you ever work in the prose form?
LH: I do some carving, sewing, gardening, and of course reading. No, I have tried writing prose but it’s not my calling, it doesn’t call out to me as poetry does.
MP – thank you Louise, and we look forward very much to your visit to Victoria.