A deeply scouring poetic account of the residential school experience, and a deeply important indictment of colonialism in Canada.
Many of the poems in Louise Halfe's Burning in This Midnight Dream were written in response to the grim tide of emotions, memories, dreams and nightmares that arose in her as the Truth and Reconciliation process unfolded. In heart-wrenching detail, Halfe recalls the damage done to her parents, her family, herself. With fearlessly wrought verse, Halfe describes how the experience of the residential schools continues to haunt those who survive, and how the effects pass like a virus from one generation to the next. She asks us to consider the damage done to children taken from their families, to families mourning their children; damage done to entire communities and to ancient cultures.
Halfe's poetic voice soars in this incredibly moving collection as she digs deep to discover the root of her pain. Her images, created from the natural world, reveal the spiritual strength of her culture.
Originally published in 2016 by Coteau Books, Burning in This Midnight Dream won the Indigenous Peoples' Publishing Award, the Rasmussen, Ramussen & Charowsky Indigenous Peoples' Writing Award, the Saskatchewan Arts Board Poetry Award, the League of Canadian Poets' Raymond Souster Award, and the High Plains Book Award for Indigenous Writers. It was also the 2017 WILLA Literacy Award Finalist in Poetry. This new edition includes a new Afterword by Halfe.
“Burning in this Midnight Dream honours the witness of a singular experience, Halfe’s experience, that many others of kin and clan experienced. Halfe descends into personal and cultural darkness with the care of a master story-teller and gives story voice to mourning. By giving voice to shame, confusion, injustice Halfe begins to reclaim a history. It is the start of a larger dialogue than what is contained in the pages.” —Raymond Souster Award jury citation
About the author
Louise Bernice Halfe – Sky Dancer was raised on Saddle Lake Reserve and attended Blue Quills Residential School. Her first book, Bear Bones & Feathers (Coteau, 1994), received the Milton Acorn People's Poetry Award and was a finalist for the Spirit of Saskatchewan Award, the Pat Lowther Award, and the Gerald Lampert Award. Blue Marrow (Coteau, 1998) was a finalist for the 1998 Governor General's Award for Poetry, and her fourth book, Burning in This Midnight Dream (Coteau, 2016), won the 2017 Saskatchewan Book Award and the Raymond Souster Award, among numerous other awards. Her newest book is awâsis – kinky and dishevelled (Brick Books, 2021). Halfe was Saskatchewan's Poet Laureate for 2005-2006, was awarded the Latner Writers Trust Award for her body of work in 2017, and was awarded the 2020 Kloppenburg Award for Literary Excellence. She trained at Nechi Institute as a facilitator, has a Bachelor of Social Work, was granted a lifetime membership in the League of Canadian Poets, and has received three honorary doctorates. She currently works with Elders in the organization Opikinawasowin ("raising our children") and lives near Saskatoon with her husband, Peter.
Excerpt: Burning in This Midnight Dream (by (author) Louise B. Halfe)
āniskōstēw – connecting
I cannot say for sure what happened
to my mother and father.
The story said,
she went to St. Anthony's Residential School
and he went to Blue Quills.
They slept on straw mattresses and
attended classes for half a day.
Mother worked as a seamstress,
a kitchen helper, a dining room servant,
or labored in the laundry room.
Father carried feed for the pigs,
cut hay for the cattle and
toiled in the massive garden.
That little story is bigger than I can tell.
Dedication to the Seventh Generation
ôta ka-wîhtamâtin âcimisowin
I will share these stories
but I will not share
those from which I will never crawl.
It is best that way.
I forget to laugh sometimes,
though in these forty years
my life has been filled
with towering mornings,
Sit by the kotawân – the fire place.
Drink muskeg and mint tea.
Hold your soul
but do not weep.
Not for me, not for you.
Weep for those who haven’t yet sung.
Weep for those who will never sing.