“Whereas” Book Review

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Things I (re)learned from Layli Long Soldier’s debut collection of poetry, Whereas:

  1. On Saturday, December 19, 2009, US President Barack Obama signed the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans. No tribal leaders or official representatives were present to receive the Apology. President Obama never read the apology aloud publicly.
  1. Reservations have a suicide rate ten times higher than the rest of the country.
  1. 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 and the same week that President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

This book of poetry is separated into two sections. Part 1: THESE BEING THE CONCERNS and Part 2: WHEREAS. There is no denying that Layli Long Soldier has a brilliant skill when it comes to language and structure. She plays the line between her Native tongue and English, treating grammar and syntax more like a suggestion than a rule of thumb.

With that said, I didn’t love the first section of Whereas. I think a lot of the material went over my head. I’m not sure if it was the use of Hopi and Dakota diction that I had no grasp or if my poetry palate just isn’t that sophisticated. Anyone who has difficulty appreciating modern poetry or has little experience with experimental poetry may feel the same way.

I did, on the other hand, get all the feels from reading the second part of the book.

Part 2 of Whereas was a lyrical indictment of the U.S. government’s sham of an apology in 2009. Layli talks about how in many native languages there is no word for “apologize” or “sorry.” There is, however, action that amends wrongdoing. This collection of work makes a strong political statement about the lack of action American government has taken in making reparations for the Indigenous people.

“The root of reparation is repair.”

I think that Layli has both the historical knowledge and literary skill to create a masterpiece. I’m kind of hoping that she ventures into the genre of memoir or essays so that she can shed some more light on the topics that I couldn’t grasp in this initial work.

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