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.
Layli Long Soldier’s WHEREAS embodies the complicated project of what it is to be an “American” poet. Long Soldier is keenly aware how language can be—and has been—used to both make and unmake the world. How words themselves are held up as possible (and actual) tools of oppression. WHEREAS is sublime in the way it reveals what all American poetics are built upon: a truth that is often forgotten or ignored.