by Layli Long Soldier
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.
"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
"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
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.