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Blue Marrow

by Louise Bernice Halfe

In her second collection of poetry, Saskatchewan’s Louise Bernice Halfe continues an exploration of many of the concerns she addressed in her previous book, Bear Bones & Feathers (1994). Blue Marrow is both a celebration of her Cree heritage (some of the text is written in Cree) as well as an impassioned critique of the historical and contemporary sufferings aboriginal people have endured.

Halfe uses several narrative voices from both the present and the past to depict the ill-fated first contact between natives and European settlers. In these poems, we witness the horrendous spread of smallpox through native communities, the destructive introduction of Christianity, and, over time, the racism apparent in white culture. Halfe directs much of her anger at the Ministry of Indian Affairs for its disastrous implementation of residential schools and the physical and emotional abuse they fostered.

Despite the many painful accounts of abuse and injustice, Blue Marrow also celebrates women’s strength, perseverance, and their continued promotion of communal values over more Western ideals that encourage individualism.

While Halfe evokes a sensually ripe world rich in images of the prairie landscape, she fails to structure her narrative voices in a way that allows the reader to access the material. Speakers include native men and women, fur traders, Jesuits, and Métis, yet the distinctions between them are not always clearly delineated. Consequently it is difficult to identify who is speaking at any given time.

Moreover, the poet’s language, while at times vibrant and precise, too often reads like prose rather than poetry. While Halfe’s work clearly draws on an oral tradition (and might be better appreciated when read aloud), she subjects her poetic voices to the demands of the printed page. Judged by this standard, the subject matter of Blue Marrow is more interesting than the infrequent flashes of poetry.

Regardless of technical lapses, the author’s emotional involvement and honesty cannot be questioned. Blue Marrow makes a useful contribution to a fuller understanding of Canadian history.


Reviewer: Theresa Shea

Publisher: McClelland & Stewart


Price: $12.99

Page Count: 96 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 0-7710-3777-5

Released: Apr.

Issue Date: 1998-6

Categories: Poetry