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Whereas: Poems

By: Layli Long Soldier

Publisher: Graywolf Press

Imprint: Graywolf Press

Format: Trade Paperback | ISBN: 9781555977672

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On Sale: | Pages: 114

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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 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."
[Long Soldier's] moving poems about motherhood are not anomalies in this deeply political text. Everything she does involves negotiations between being a citizen of the United States and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe... Readers will understand what it means to use “art” as a verb as they dig into these incisively intelligent and emotionally resonant poems.
—Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Whereas” is an excavation, reorganization and documentation of a structure of language that has talked the United States through its many acts of violence. This book troubles our consideration of the language we use to carry our personal and national narratives.... The aching poem at the heart of “Whereas,” “38,” recounts the “largest ‘legal' mass execution” in United States history: the hanging of 38 Dakota men, ordered by our still-lauded president “Honest” Abe Lincoln days before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
—New York Times
Writers who live between two languages face an extra challenge in their role as lexicographers of metaphor. They must create a mythology through language that acts like double-pane glass. As in, they must correct for the distortion of the words they are translating from one language to another. In her debut collection, “Whereas,” the Oglala Sioux writer Layli Long Soldier manages this double-ness with the precision of a master glassblower. Writing in a variety of forms and with ferocious precision, Long Soldier uses the grit between the definitions of words in her language and in English to make poems that are transparent on the history of American Indians — a history that has been catastrophically opaque. From its very first pages, “Whereas” reads like a book of robust corrections, parenthetical comments, footnotes and arguments with definitions.
—Los Angeles Times
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