Book Review: “Burning In This Midnight Dream” by Louise Bernice Halfe

Cover of "Burning In This Midnight Dream" by Louise Bernice Halfe.
Cover of “Burning In This Midnight Dream” by Louise Bernice Halfe.

I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “Burning In This Midnight Dream” by Louise Bernice Halfe!

Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:

“Burning In This Midnight Dream is the latest collection of poems by Louise Bernice Halfe. Many 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. 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.”

Content Warning:

This poetry collection contains descriptions of residential school experiences, alcohol abuse, domestic abuse, murder, and sexual abuse. If you are uncomfortable with reading this type of content, please be careful when reading this collection or skip it entirely.

Overall Thoughts:

Many of the poems in this collection contain words in Cree terminology. As someone who is unfamiliar with the language, this made it hard for me to follow as a reader. Most of the poems are in English (or most of the poems themselves contain English as its primary language at least). I would have liked to see an index of what the words mean somewhere. Despite the lack of understanding the language, I was able to follow all of the poems overall. However, I suspect I might miss a few details due to a lack of knowing Cree.

The poems are very strong when it comes to their imagery, and that imagery moved me as a reader. The author doesn’t hold back from giving explicit details about the abuse she went through, as well as the experiences she’s either heard of or seen with fellow Indigenous people. This includes the experiences of her own family. It also describes some of the culture clash between her family and Indigenous ancestors before her generation and beyond. I found that the imagery helped me at least have an idea of what it was like for the author back then. The whole collection itself was, in a way, an autobiography. The collection starts from her and her parents’ times in residential schools before the later poems focused on her after getting married and looking back on past generations.

Overall, I’m rating this poetry collection out of 4.5 out of 5 stars!

This was a moving collection of poetry to read. However, if you are sensitive to any of the content I listed, please read this collection carefully.

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