StarPhoenix Review - Crooked Good
Halfe joins many voices in her poetry
Reviewed by: Saskatoon Star Phoenix
Louise Halfe brings together so many voices here it's sometimes hard to know who's talking. But you can get it. You can figure it out. And this restless story will be told.
The Crooked Good is the name of the character that leads us through Louise Halfe's third collection of poetry, named after our guide. Her name is actually e-kweskit, or Turn-Around Woman, and she tells us, 'I was taught by Old people./ An Indian Man, a White Man./ An Indian Woman, a White Woman./ ... The old ones navigated through my dreams./ Sometimes they dragged, scolded, cajoled,/ cheered and celebrated./ I wanted to be with them. Like them.' She goes on to give us more of her credentials, saying, 'I am not a saint. I am a crooked good./ ... I am seventy, but still/ I carry my sins.' And she is emblematic, in many ways, of this remarkable, eccentric, and impressionistic family history by our province's former Poet Laureate. Employing snippets of history texts, family stories, written approximations of oral traditions, liberal use of Cree words and phrases -- some translated in the text, some in a glossary -- Halfe brings together an often-raucous multitude of voices to tell a family story that may be Halfe's, and certainly may be that of many other First Nations people. T
urn-Around Woman, with many asides from voices in the far and recent past, and from her mother, sisters, and others, takes us through a life lived in the woods, on the edges of small towns, on reserves, in the city, living off the land, working for hardscrabble immigrant farmers, going to residential school, and ultimately contemplating a desk in an office and the stories that need, somehow, to be told in such a way that others can hear.
As Turn-Around Woman tells her amazing, unsettling, sometimes funny, sometimes densely-textured stories, she moves between the relative safety of Rib Woman, the lair or sweat lodge, where she can meditate on the past and join her stories to those of her ancestors, and the enduring presence of the Rolling Head The Rolling Head is a First Nations legend that in some versions is part of a creation story, while in others is part of a story of menstruation taboos and the sacredness of the female. In Halfe's depiction it carries with it more of sense of restlessness in the female.
In all stories the head eats everything that's in its way: it's voracious. In Halfe's story, women who have unhappy marriages, who, down through the years have been 'give-away ides/ starry eyed as I, as they trudged behind/ their fur-trader husbands,' who have been married for convenience rather than love, often develop an 'obsession' to climb out of their own skin and run out of the life shackled to them. T
urn-Around Woman, in stories often remarkably like Halfe's, speaks of trying to be true to oneself as a Cree woman, as a wife and mother, as a daughter and granddaughter, to navigate between all the amenities and temptations of the white world while Rib Woman waits. 'Never forget you're Cree,' says her grandmother. And meanwhile, always patient, always simmering in her restlessness, is the Rolling Head. Bill Robertson is a Saskatoon freelance writer and poet.