cover image Whereas: Poems

Whereas: Poems

Layli Long Soldier. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-55597-767-2

“Keep in mind, I am not a historian// So I will recount facts as best I can, given limited resources and understanding,” writes Long Soldier, a 2016 Whiting Award winner, in her formally ambitious and gut-wrenching debut collection. Long Soldier may not be a historian, but she gives a vivid account of the realities of life as a Native American mother, unfurling a series of poems that relate the duplicitous behavior of the U.S. government toward indigenous peoples. Her poem recounting the fate of the Dakota 38, hanged for the Sioux Uprising of 1862 in “the largest ‘legal’ mass execution in US history,” serves as a microcosm for and a focal point of the collection. Long Soldier leans heavily on the “legal speak and congressional language” of apologies and broken treaties that mark out “centuries in sorry.” Employing discrete lyric, conceptual, and concrete forms; extended sequences; and sprawling prose series, she asks, “how do I language a collision arrived at through separation?” The work is difficult for its often stark, dispassionate language as well as the heaviness of the feeling that refuses to be stifled by the means of delivery. Long Soldier underscores how centuries of legal jargon have decimated peoples, their voices, and their languages: “Although I often feel lost on this trail, I know I am not alone.” (Mar.)