Review: Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

January 31, 2018
Whereas, Layli Long Soldier, Book Review, InToriLex
Published By: Graywolf Press on March 7, 2017
Format Read: Paperback Edition (114 pages)
Genre: Poetry/ Non-fiction/ Social Justice
Series: Stand alone
Source: Purchased
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.



These poems are memorable and moving, but most of all they're important. Being Native American is existing in a place that has massacred and stolen from your ancestors and now expects you to be appreciative for surviving. This poetry explores how hard it is to gain understanding from a government that downplays it's transgressions while apologizing. This author plays with language throughout her poetry, and used formatting to add depth to her poems. Most public schools  do not explain who Native Americans are in history, leaving most people to stumble upon the horrors that occurred against them on their own.
From "38"
The Dakota 38 refers to thirty-eight Dakota men who were executed by hanging, under orders from President Abraham Lincoln. 
To date, this is the largest “legal” mass execution in US history. 
The hanging took place on December 26, 1862—the day after Christmas. 
This was the same week that President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.
The ideals that America are modeled on do not ring true when looking at history. This book of poems explores how the author learns to express her identity and hold on to her culture. A large portion of the poems are in response to the apology that Obama signed in 2010. The poems point out the inadequacy and insulting nature of how the apology was done. The lyrical poems help shed light on the reality of Native American reservations. The truth and emotions of what she shares is essential reading. I would recommend this book to all readers who want to learn more about the history of the people who survived the creation of the United States.


Layli Long Soldier earned a BFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA with honors from Bard College. She is the author of the chapbook Chromosomory (2010) and the full-length collection Whereas (2017), which was a finalist for the National Book Awards. She has been a contributing editor to Drunken Boat and is poetry editor at Kore Press; in 2012, her participatory installation, Whereas We Respond, was featured on the Pine Ridge Reservation. In 2015, Long Soldier was awarded a National Artist Fellowship from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation and a Lannan Literary Fellowship for Poetry.

A citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation, Long Soldier lives in Tsaile, Arizona, in the Navajo Nation, with her husband and daughter. She is an adjunct faculty member at Diné College.
Interview with the On Being Podcast

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