Whereas: Poems (Paperback)
Whereas is the debut collection of Layli Long Soldier, but “debut” seems far too simplistic a word to describe the masterful, revelatory work she has created. As a response to the official U.S. apology to Native Americans signed by President Obama in 2009, this collection is rare in its experimental excellence and its exploration of the possibilities of language in responding to institutional racism and injustice. Long Soldier writes verses that don't rest, that are restricted and break free. This book is one to read immediately. As Long Soldier instructs, “Now / make room in the mouth / for grassesgrassesgrasses." -Mary— From Spring Booknotes 2017
In a time when the necessity and urgency of certain books feels more apparent and vital than ever, it's imperative to know the ground we are literally standing upon - its past, its real past, what has led to these present moments, the state of this time. I know of few single books that have invoked this ground as brilliantly, beautifully, and fiercely as Layli Long Soldier does in Whereas. This is not a book, a debut coming from nowhere. Rather, it comes out of place and life, of others preceding, stands with other strong voices in its time, and calls out. Its call is utterly powerful. The day a copy came in the mail, I was on a night flight across the country, west to east. Reading these words, I felt the plane suddenly drawn down to the ground, down to be amidst those there at Standing Rock, putting body, belief, and voice on the line for dignity and justice. Whereas does so as other books do, but poetically, profoundly, and tellingly as few others have. The 'grassesgrassesgrasses.' Yes yes yes.— From Rick
Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry
WHEREAS her birth signaled the responsibility as mother to teach what it is to be Lakota therein the question: What did I know about being Lakota? Signaled panic, blood rush my embarrassment. What did I know of our language but pieces? Would I teach her to be pieces? Until a friend comforted, Don't worry, you and your daughter will learn together. Today she stood sunlight on her shoulders lean and straight to share a song in Dine, her father's language. To sing she motions simultaneously with her hands; I watch her be in multiple musics.
--from "WHEREAS Statements"
WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations. "I am," she writes, "a citizen of the United States and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, meaning I am a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation--and in this dual citizenship I must work, I must eat, I must art, I must mother, I must friend, I must listen, I must observe, constantly I must live." This strident, plaintive book introduces a major new voice in contemporary literature.
About the Author
Layli Long Soldier received a 2015 Lannan Fellowship for Poetry, a 2015 National Artist Fellowship from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, and a 2016 Whiting Writers' Award. She lives in Arizona and teaches at Dine College.