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Whereas: Poems
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Graywolf Press
Pub Date: 2017
ISBN: 9781555977672
Layli Long Soldier
Whereas: Poems
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Whereas: Poems

by Layli Long Soldier

The astonishing, powerful debut by the winner of a 2016 Whiting Writers' Award

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 Diné, 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.

“One of the most innovative collections of poetry I’ve come across in a long time. . . . WHEREAS is a masterful example of compositional resistance. . . . Long Soldier sutures found language with her own lyrically stark diction, making poems that are amalgams of poetry and proclamation. . . . WHEREAS is an ambitious, ground breaking book. The world needs more of those.”―Dean Rader, Ploughshares

“This would be an important, beautiful book no matter what historical moment it appeared in, but in light of the state brutality in response to the Standing Rock protest, and America’s giant step backward in the presidential election, Long Soldier’s interrogative, challenging poems seem especially important.”―Literary Hub

“[A] formally ambitious and gut-wrenching debut collection. . . . Employing discrete lyric, conceptual, and concrete forms; extended sequences; and sprawling prose series,. . . Long Soldier underscores how centuries of legal jargon have decimated peoples, their voices, and their languages.”―Publishers Weekly

“[A] searingly intelligent, masterfully crafted, and unarguably important debut. . . . Long Soldier articulates an argument against the conventional framing of Native space surrounded and dominated by federal lands, hijacking legalese to resist this ongoing colonization. . . . A wickedly smart, necessarily solemn, and unmistakably urgent addition to the continually burgeoning canon of Native poetry, alongside such authors as Natalie Diaz, dg okpik, and Jennifer Foerster.”―Booklist

“I was blown away by Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS―inspired by its trenchant, beautiful thinking about the relationship between political speech and literature’s capacity to write back. And write back Long Soldier does, with a sensibility so sure of itself that I find myself simply standing back in admiration.”
―Maggie Nelson, author of The Argonauts

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