WHEREAS: Poems (Paperback)
I cannot claim to KNOW poetry, but there is writing in Whereas by Layli Long Soldier that speaks to me.
- "still I say baby soft like a poet two even syllables as.in. bo.dy. or I.was." Left, Two
- “And let the body swing.
From the platform.
to the grasses.” 38
I do not have the language to elaborate why, but I recommend this collection of poetry.
— From Julia's Past Picks 3
March 2017 Indie Next List
“When pain is obvious but goes unrecognized, it feels like trying to strain salt from sugar. With the poems in Whereas, Layli Long Soldier engages with where she's 'from' through history and memory, analysis and reflection. Her mission? To stay angry - to declare, 'I'm here I'm not / numb to a single dot.' From rants and dreams and one lexical box to a pantomime of legalese, Long Soldier is agile, aware, and not asking for pity. She aims, instead, for action - 'whereas speaking, itself, is defiance.'”
— Annalia Luna, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX
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 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.
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.
“WHEREAS is an excavation, reorganization and documentation of a structure of language that has talked the United States through its many acts of violence. . . . She has built a poetics that refuses . . . boundaries. . . . Long Soldier's poems are radical in structure and constraint. . . . WHEREAS challenges the making and maintenance of an empire by transforming the page to withstand the tension of an occupied body, country and, specifically an occupied language. . . . Long Soldier reminds readers of their physical and linguistic bodies as they are returned to language through their mouths and eyes and tongues across the fields of her poems.”—The New York Times Book Review
“Using elliptical prose, blank spaces, crossed-out text, and Lakota words, Long Soldier articulates both her identity and her literary undertaking.”—The New Yorker
“Long Soldier’s movement between collective and personal makes this book intimate and urgent. She has charted new ways to write in what’s left out—and not merely in the margins either. WHEREAS offers a powerful reckoning.”—National Book Critics Circle Award judges’ citation
“[WHEREAS] reminded me what careful language can do. It made me recommit to writing . . . and made me believe again in the power of writing and the truths that it can reveal for people and what that remembering and honoring the truth can do for the individual, but also for the group, for all of us.”—Jesmyn Ward, The New York Times Magazine
“Writers who live between two languages face an extra challenge in their role as lexicographers of metaphor. . . . Layli Long Soldier manages this double-ness with the precision of a master glassblower. . . . You do not slip into this book on silken bolts of easy beauty, but scratch yourself raw on language disassembled into glittering shards.”—Los Angeles Times
“Layli Long Solider galvanizes the literary world with her extraordinary debut, WHEREAS. . . . Long Soldier’s powerful lyricism writes back to official doctrine and serves as an essential teaching for all Americans.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“The Whereas Statements lay bare the realities and contrasts of Long Soldier’s life and her role as an Oglala Lakota poet, mother,and daughter. There are moments of beautiful intimacy, connection, and forgiveness; there is also an awareness of separation, andacknowledgement of the difficulty (sometimes, impossibility) of repair.”—The Atlantic
“Elegant, innovative, and necessary.”—BuzzFeed
“This collection of ‘short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers’ stands as a reckoning.”—The Village Voice
“Stranded between two languages, Long Soldier invents her own. She revolutionizes English from the inside, making it more inclusive and, therefore, more American. . . . WHEREAS is palpably contemporary, a rejoinder to the notion that Native Americans are, somehow, less present than anyone else. Long Soldier’s poems take on new forms and subjects at a pace that outstrips summary. Together, they ‘ink-inject the permanent reminder: I'm here I'm not / numb to a single dot.’”—BOMB Magazine
“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
“WHEREAS is a poetic document of force, an indictment of bureaucratic language that makes violence passive. . . . Long Soldier’s book is diverse in form and function, a beautiful work of book art that needs to ne held and museum-shown.”—The Millions
“In WHEREAS, we are given a substantive act of intelligent, crafted resistance.”—Harvard Review
“I daresay the entire book is one epic poem. It is a poetry of history, territory, and the sacred lands of the heart comprised of prose pieces, short lyrics, longer narrative sequences, lyrical proclamations, and spunky disclaimers, some broken off so that the sentences look like patterns for a tapestry or a square around an empty space. . . . With WHEREAS, Layli Long Soldier teaches us that the more we include and are included, the more genuinely American we become.”—Radius
“[Layli Long Soldier] implicates the line between the political and the personal, writing with apparent concern for both, but also looking at the ways in which one is imposed upon the other. . . . [She] alternates between scrutiny and more tender, intimate passages that equally reinforce her project of interrogation.”—Los Angeles Review of Books
“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
“WHEREAS is a superb achievement, a must-have text for classrooms and libraries and for devotees of fine literature who advocate for human rights and social justice.”—World Literature Today
“A momentous, instructional book. . . . WHEREAS is not only a reply to erasure, an argument which is the opposite of a proclamation, which includes that to which it is responding to, but also its other option, a memorial in which we act.”—AAWW.org
“WHEREAS is a meditative book that cuts through the clutter, greed, and lies of American life. . . . Her work is a flood of beauty that sings in the wind of “grassesgrassesgrasses.”—Rain Taxi
“[WHEREAS] is one of the most important poetry collections you’ll read this year. . . . This is a fierce and gentle book, an affirming and questioning one, and one which understands that the kinds of political resistance we attempt to build in the broken and devastated places that we occupy have everything to do with our relationship to language, to each other, and to the earth.”—Enclave
“Burning and tender and urgent. . . . Language, in WHEREAS, is always attached to more than power. It is material, as living as grass. . . . Like the water protectors who stood in defiance of the Dakota Access Pipeline, refusal in WHEREAS is generative, an active remembering that ‘the people themselves are healing this land its waters’ and that ‘they act upon this right without apology.’”—4Columns
“In language as forceful as it is stark, Long Soldier lays bare the duplicity and violence against Native peoples in a collection that may well serve as poignant and powerful a poetic manifestation of racial injustice as Claudia Rankine’s Citizen.”—Little Infinite Newsletter
“[Layli Long Soldier] 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.”—Library Journal, starred review
“[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
“Through questioning the territorial reach of poetic syntax and lineation, Long Soldier disrupts the hegemony of the English language over land rights and legal apology, thus reclaiming the white page as a space of multilingual protest.”—The Guardian (UK)
“Diverse in format—narrative lyrics, legalistic prose, prose poems, concrete poems, lineated confession—the book’s many themes include landscape, identity, grief, loss, birth, death, motherhood, history and oppression. It is also a very good read.”—Daisy Fried
“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
“Layli Long Soldier is the poet-architect in the arena of witness and longing. Her work interrogates poetic form and the legacy of a history of brutality and extermination. . . . Elegant and painful, formally surprising, personal and historic, this is a fearless, polyphonic crossing of cultures and languages in the service of both tenderness and trenchant critique.”—Whiting Award citation
“Steeped in Native American history and current politics, Long Soldier’s poetry is a melodious battle cry, an argument and a prayer for our nation’s future.”—Morgan Parker
“Whereas, Layli Long Soldier is one of the finest singers of her generation to be called through the doorway of poetry. Whereas, in this first collection she has made a stunning poetry of tribal-personal awareness, injustice and words tightened with the sinew of truth. Whereas, in these poems there can be no false claims, no boundaries, no treaties. Whereas, these poems are a young Oglala Lakota poet taking her place, as she follows in the path of buffalo, horses, Indian cars, and patient ancestors. Whereas, we are in a century still drenched in gunshot and longing. Whereas, these poems are the songs you need to make it through to the other side.”—Joy Harjo
“A searing and challenging series of poems exposing the role of language in the injuries done to Native Americans in American history. A must read.”—Eavan Boland
“WHEREAS is a new offering of the deepest precedent. This gift of where as else, which no one could possibly ask for or deserve, bears and is borne by terrible and absolute testimony. Look at how we have laid waste, and how nothing in this book settles. With Long Soldier, in the interminable momentousness of her song, poetry itself is somewhere else. Maybe we can get there from there.”—Fred Moten
“Language is the ‘oil on the surface’—a doorway in which Long Soldier experiments with syntax in brilliant and heartbreaking ways as she negotiates the politics of the land and of the body. This poetry collection is a personal and political necessity for 2017.”—Nicole McCarthy, Kings Books, Tacoma, WA
“If there's any justice in this world, Layli Long Soldier's WHEREAS will galvanize readers in the same way that Claudia Rankine did with Citizen.”—Stephen Sparks, Green Apple Books, San Francisco, CA
“The poems of WHEREAS take impulse seriously, as a starting point beset by diction, ‘a style of speaking,’ and one's place in that style, that history. By stifling, (re)defining, and crossing out words, Layli Long Soldier sets her debut collection at auspicious odds with destruction (of Native American cultures) and creation (of identity void of context). This / was how I wanted to begin, Long Soldier writes, with the little / I know. These poems insist on ‘the little’ they know, on their materiality, not as objects made in solitude, but fires born of emptiness; the space, as this poet suggests, that we can see each other in.”—Colin McDonald, Seminary Co-op, Chicago, IL
“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.”—Rick Simonson, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, WA
“When pain is obvious but goes unrecognized, it feels like trying to strain salt from sugar. With WHEREAS, Layli Long Soldier engages with where she’s ‘from’ through history & memory, analysis & reflection. Her mission? To stay angry—to declare, ‘I'm here I'm not / numb to a single dot.’ From rants & dreams & one lexical box to a pantomime of legalese, Long Soldier is agile, aware, & not asking for pity. She aims, instead, for action—‘whereas speaking, itself, is defiance.’”—Annalia Luna, Brazos Bookstore, Houston, TX
“Layli Long Soldier challenges the very language that allows treaties to be made and broken like silence, like bones. She subverts the technicality of such documents by demonstrating its non-place in daily life, its grasping abstractness. There is no room for the terse wording, the outflowing of deceit, the coded language of take. Instead, she focuses wielding language—the texture, the gaps of lack, the sound of it, the roundness—creating a new conveyance from within our existing one. These avenues of knowing, these narratives rise like sunlight off heavy snow, blinding with apparentness, with presence and urgency. This is a great uncovering, and it happened amidst the murmur of the grasses.”—Amanda Ibarra, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, NC