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Graywolf Press

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opens in a new window WHEREAS Download image

ISBN10: 1555977677
ISBN13: 9781555977672


114 Pages



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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.


Praise for WHEREAS

"Long Soldier, a member of the Oglala Sioux tribe, troubles our consideration of the language we use to carry our personal and national narratives in this moving and ambitious debut collection. The poem at its heart, '38,' recounts the hanging of 38 Dakota men, ordered by Lincoln days before he signed the Emancipation Proclamation."—Radhika Jones, The New York Times

"These poems, by a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, juxtapose tribal and personal history to address the U.S. government’s violence against Native Americans—including the execution, in 1862, of thirty-eight Dakota men, who revolted as starvation ravaged their people. Using elliptical prose, blank spaces, crossed-out text, and Lakota words, Long Soldier articulates both her identity and her literary undertaking: 'In this dual citizenship, I must work, I must eat, I must art.' A central sequence repeats the 'Whereas' of congressional documents to critique the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans. Passed in 2009, it was never publicly read and was unobtrusively 'folded into a larger, unrelated piece of legislation called the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act.'"—The New Yorker

“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

“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

“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

“[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 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