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THE VISIT TO BOSTON OF CANADIAN POET LAUREATE
LOUISE BERNICE HALFE (“SKY DANCER”)
AT THE INVITATION OF THE POETS' THEATRE AND CANADIAN CONSULATE
Our friend Louise Bernice Halfe ("Sky Dancer") had a great first day in the Boston area on Indigenous People's Day October 9. At mid-day she took a quiet, reflective Charles River walk with indigenous MIT students and some instructors, followed by a "smudging session" in which participants "bathed" themselves in plumes of smoke from dried sage leaves, and then a grand lunch and a short reading by Louise. Then we (Louise, her husband Peter Butt and myself, David Gullette) went to Albemarle Field in Newton where representatives of a wide range of tribes (from Mashpee Wampanoags to Dominican/Puerto Rican Tainos) danced and sang in tribal regalia to the deep sound of drums. There have been some Italian Americans from Newton who have expressed their displeasure with the displacement of traditional "Columbus Day" by IPD celebrations, but a pair of young women from the same Italian American community declared their solidarity with Indigenous folks, and rejected any permanent link with the brutal enslaver Columbus. As dusk approached, Louise read some rawly powerful poems about sexual abuse of native students in Canada's "Residential Schools." It was a stirring end to a grand day.
Tuesday October 10 Louise and her team had a lavish lunch at the offices of the Consulate General of Canada in Boston’s Copley Square. Officiating was acting Consul Dina Santos, along with the key consular group that arranged for funding most of Louise’s trip—Matthew Wong, Michael Pizziferri, Meaghan Sunderland and others. In mid-afternoon Louise, Peter and I walked through the Fenway and visited the rose garden, before strolling over to Simmons University, where Erika Monfort and Cynthia Perry of the Multicultural Center welcomed us to the Linda Paresky Center, where Louise spoke (and read her poetry) to a group of attentive Simmons undergraduates, many of them students of color who understood instantly the racial bias Louise and other indigenous Canadians suffered at the hands of the government and church people in charge of the wicked “Residential Schools.” After the talk, the group, including a dozen or so of the students, were invited to a feast of marvelous barbecue (a Taino word) at Sweet Cheeks Q, Top Chef Tiffani Faison’s crowning glory.
Wednesday October 11 was even busier. At noon Louise spoke and read beautifully to a group of students and faculty at Tufts University, and then attended a meeting of Anna Ross’s poetry-writing class, where students had read some of Louise’s poems in advance, and were anxious to hear how she would read them aloud. In late afternoon we managed time for naps before heading to the Museum of Science, where about a hundred people assembled to hear Canada’s Poet Laureate. Louise was joined by Boston’s Poet Laureate, Porsha Olayiwola (a Poets’ Theatre veteran), and between them the poets generated both poetic heat and light. Making this event possible were Museum of Science President Tim Ritchie (a lover of poetry in his own right) and his colleague James Monroe.
Thursday was a day off, so David took Louise and Peter down to New Bedford where they walked along the waterfront as far as the schooner Ernestina Morrisey (a sailboat without GPS, radio or radar, that brought hundreds of folks from Cape Verde off the coast of Africa to New Bedford to become workers and American citizens, as late as the 1960s). Then a bowl of chowder at Destination Sandwiches, followed by fresh sea scallops from Kyler’s Catch, which we fried up and ate with French bread at a secret cabin in the woods in nearby Westport. The day was rounded out by tea in Belmont with Poets’ Theatre President Joanne Baldine, Artistic Director Robert Scanlan and Treasurer Amanda Gann.
Friday morning saw a return to MIT, where Louise spoke to a class led by Janelle Knox and then had a lovely lunch. And Friday afternoon Louise read beautifully to an enthusiastic audience at the Newton Free Library, invited by Acting Library head Jill Mercurio.
Saturday began with a visit to Harvard (including the art museum, which featured an exhibition about the opium trade, of particular interest to Dr. Peter Butt, an expert on addiction interventions). It’s worth noting that many of Boston’s great fortunes were amassed by selling Indian opium to the Chinese, and that by the end of the 19C 10% of the population of China was addicted. Some of the artifacts at the Harvard exhibit were donated by the notorious Sackler family, the folks who gave us the opiate Oxycontin.
That afternoon, joined by Margaret Morganroth Gullette, we drove out to Concord where we lunched and then made our way to Walden Pond, walking all the way out to the site of Thoreau’s cabin, where David read a passage from Walden. Saturday night, we were treated by the Canadian Consulate to excellent seats at a concert at Medford’s historic Chevalier Theatre by Canadian singer Loreena McKinnett, whose fine voice can perhaps be described as Hypnotic Ethereal Celtic, and after the show we had a pleasant private meeting with Loreena, who hit it off instantly with Louise.
Before dawn next morning Louise and Peter flew back to Saskatoon. We all agree that the week-long visit was a spectacular success, without a single catastrophe, and planted feathers in the caps of the Poets’ Theatre and all the other institutions and individuals involved.
David Gullette, 15 October 2023
THE POETS THEATRE INVITES CANADA'S POET LAUREATE TO BOSTON OCTOBER 9-14
LOUISE BERNICE HALFE (aka Sky Dancer) is the first indigenous writer to be named POET LAUREATE by Canada. We have invited her to spend the week around Indigenous People's Day in Boston, where she will have various appearances at universities, libraries and other venues.
The best chance for supporters of the Poets'Theatre to see/hear her will, be to attend the gala event at the Museum of Science at 7pm on Wednesday October 11, The event is free, but you'll need to register at MOS.org.
Among other things, Louise is a survivor of the horrendous "Residential Schools" where native children who had been essentially kidnapped from their homes by the government, were delivered into the less-than-tender care of Catholic nuns and priests who saw their job as wiping any traces of native culture from the minds of the students. So aside from sexual and physical abuse, there was cultural erasure: speaking native languages, contact with home, familiar foods and music and spirituality were forbidden. It is from this deep well of seven years of sorrow that Louise Bernice Halfe draws much of her poetry.
Video of WASTE LAND performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mS86v_Fvb-c
MEET SCOTT HARNEY
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