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WHEREAS
Cover of WHEREAS
WHEREAS
Poems
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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.

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.

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Awards-
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 Diné College.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    December 19, 2016
    “Keep in mind, I am not a historian// So I will recount facts as best I can, given limited resources and understanding,” writes Long Soldier, a 2016 Whiting Award winner, in her formally ambitious and gut-wrenching debut collection. Long Soldier may not be a historian, but she gives a vivid account of the realities of life as a Native American mother, unfurling a series of poems that relate the duplicitous behavior of the U.S. government toward indigenous peoples. Her poem recounting the fate of the Dakota 38, hanged for the Sioux Uprising of 1862 in “the largest ‘legal’ mass execution in US history,” serves as a microcosm for and a focal point of the collection. Long Soldier leans heavily on the “legal speak and congressional language” of apologies and broken treaties that mark out “centuries in sorry.” Employing discrete lyric, conceptual, and concrete forms; extended sequences; and sprawling prose series, she asks, “how do I
    language a collision arrived at through separation?” The work is difficult for its often stark, dispassionate language as well as the heaviness of the feeling that refuses to be stifled by the means of delivery. Long Soldier underscores how centuries of legal jargon have decimated peoples, their voices, and their languages: “Although I often feel lost on this trail, I know I am not alone.”

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from April 15, 2017

    Whiting Award winner Long Soldier, a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, uses urgent, muscular, fiercely vibrant language to explore the very concept of language: how tightly it is bound up with culture, how it shifts and defines the speaker. The early poems set the scene: a man is dragged through the dirt, "His skull, glisten of star/ to bone; a square poem signals the speaker's entrapment; "Wings that do not close" bespeak aspiration. Soon the speaker is exploring the relation of thought to language, which must be used well ("Here, the sentence will be respected"), even as she comments reflexively on historical and ongoing abuses. The tour-de-force title section confronts the U.S. government's meager apology for such abuses in 2009. VERDICT Challenging and worth it.

    Copyright 2017 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

  • Booklist

    February 1, 2017
    In 2009, President Obama signed a Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans, which could have proven historically monumental, but the resolution was never read aloud, no tribal leaders received it, and the apology was subsumed in a Defense Appropriations Act. For this searingly intelligent, masterfully crafted, and unarguably important debut book of poetry, Long Soldier takes the Resolution of Apology as a bulwark against which to orient a poetic response. Blending prose and verse, writing in heritage language and foster tongue, playing with white space and marginalia, 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. In the process, she generates singular and ineffable imagery: I'm chewing at a funeral and. I'm nibbling my pulp knuckles. Elsewhere, A tick head burrows in the skin of a question. A wickedly smart, necessarily solemn, and unmistakably urgent addition to a continually burgeoning canon of Native poetry, alongside such authors as Natalie Diaz, dg okpik, and Jennifer Foerster.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2017, American Library Association.)

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