2017 WinnerLatner Griffin Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize
“In the works of Louise Bernice Halfe, we are in the presence of an extraordinary storyteller, okihcihtâw-iskwew (a warrior woman): one whose voice emerges from profound solitude, and simultaneously opens to a vast polyphony of voices. Halfe’s poems are highly attuned to speech, silence, and stillness; to breath, to incantation; creating a taut, resonant relationship between the page and the reader. She leaves no experience unturned: her own life, the violence experienced by Indigenous women, and the painful legacy of the residential school system.
Halfe’s poetics refuse the hierarchies of colonial literary critique, instead affirming the equality of the contemporary, the ancestral, and the mythological; holding a multiplicity of cosmologies and quotidian realities as relevant and urgent. In so doing she will not allow any of us to read Indigenous narrative as an elegy. She resists the lyric as a strategy for making experience, and especially the process of Truth and Reconciliation, forgiving and safe, requiring instead a vigorous accountability. Halfe reminds us not only of the consciousnesses that want to be heard, but that listen back; that listen to our listening.
Her work cannot be assimilated in the canon of contemporary Canadian literature; instead, it must be ingested, transforming our collective literature on a cellular level, reimagining our identities, languages, and memories as denizens of Turtle Island.”
— 2017 Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize Jury (Alice Burdick, Soraya Peerbaye, and Gregory Scofield)