Whereas by Layli Long Soldier (Graywolf Press, 2017).
Cold Pastoral by Rebecca Dunham (Milkweed Editions, 2017).
Layli Long Soldier’s first collection tasks itself with writing back to and simultaneously interrogating official political speech. Whereas, as poem and collection, is an act of compositional resistance, one in which the typography of the page deconstructs linguistic structures and the uses to which they are put. The title poem employs the term to address and to contest President Barack Obama’s 2009 signing of the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans. Specifically, the poem unmasks the false claims in legislation that positions itself as reparation, as in the third-to-last section which erodes the authority of the Resolution via Long Soldier’s removal of key language:
abiding [ ] in the [ ], and for millennia Native Peoples
have maintained a powerful [ ] connection to this land,
as evidenced by their [ ] and legends;
[ ], and [ ] of Native Peoples and endeavored to as-
similate them by such policies as the redistribution of land under
the Act of February 8, 1887 (23 U.S.C. 331; 24 Stat. 388, chap-
ter 119) (commonly known as the “General Allotment Act”), and
the forcible removal of Native [ ] from their [ ] to faraway boarding schools where their Native [ ] and
[ ] were degraded and forbidden;
The structures that Long Soldier employs within “Whereas” vary, and an emphasis on movement is one way in which the twenty-two-page poem avoids stasis or entrapment, as if pattern is itself suspect. One of the most intimate sections addresses the poet’s small daughter:
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....