Recommended Reading: Whereas by Layli Long Soldier

Layli Long Soldier’s collection Whereas* is a searing response to the congressional apology to Native American peoples (tucked away in a 2009 defense appropriations bill, signed by President Obama but not read aloud or offered in person to tribal leaders) and the legacy that apology (such as it is) represents.

Whereas considers the language of government bureaucracy and history in poems that vary wildly in form. Here you’ll find prose poems, a historical narrative (the blistering “38”), found poems and poems that depend on erasure, a poem in the form of a definition, and on and on. It’s almost dizzying—you never know what the next page will bring.

The work of living and observing language and its uses: these stood out to me as the twin subjects of Whereas. Of the latter, Ms. Long Soldier writes, “If I’m transformed by language, I am often / crouched in footnote or blazing in title.”  In one of Whereas‘s most quoted passages, she writes, “I am 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.” The personal—mothering, writing, living—serves as a counter to the formal, insidiously impersonal language of government documents, and it also highlights the effects that language has on people, culturally and physically. The poet writes of her weariness, her tooth that was pulled instead of saved thanks to budget sequestration (“Yet the root of reparation is repair. My tooth will not grow back. The root, gone.”), her relief at a real apology offered by someone close to her.

Layli Long Soldier melds form and content in impressive, important ways. Whereas is highly recommended.

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration, which did not affect the content of my review.

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Last Week’s Reading: March 26 – April 1

There Now, by Eamon Grennan: I’ve forgotten what led me to request this poetry collection from the library, so if it was your recommendation, please let me know in the comments! This was my first time reading Mr. Grennan’s work (I’m sure I’ve said this before, but the more I read contemporary poetry, the more I realize I haven’t read) and I enjoyed it thoroughly. There Now features poems that are short on commas, long on inventive hyphenated adjectives, and virtuosic in their syntax. I’ll be adding this to my Christmas list come the end of the year.

A Separation, by Katie Kitamura: In A Separation, the narrator learns that her estranged husband is missing, and travels from London to Greece to seek him out. That their separation is secret makes an already unfortunate situation even more complex, especially when Christopher’s overbearing mother and possible fling are thrown into the mix. This is a cool, controlled a novel that’s more about the narrator’s psychology and observations on relationships than it is about the mystery plot. While I appreciated those observations and Ms. Kitamura’s handling of alienation as a theme, the style—run on sentences meant to approximate the slip-patter of thought—was to me intrusive, and detracted from my reading experience.

Whereas, by Layli Long Soldier: I’ll be posting a full  review of this searing collection soon.

My Darling Detective, by Howard Norman: This new novel by one of my favorite authors didn’t disappoint. Full review coming soon.

There Are More Beautiful Things Than Beyoncé, by Morgan Parker: Goodness, I wish I could have made it into Boston to hear Ms. Parker read from this collection—with their rhythmic intensity, these poems beg to be read out loud. Pop culture, politics, and personal experience are woven together throughout the collection, which ranges in tone from jaunty and risqué  to forlorn. “I’m a little unpolished / behind the scenes,” the poet writes. Some of my favorite poems include “99 Problems,” “Delicate and Jumpy” (“I’m a museum / of  necklines and cloudscapes, a heaven / diving into the wrong hard mountain.”), “Afro,” and “Slouching Toward Beyoncé.” An excellent collection and a must-read for its perspectives on race, feminism, and vulnerability.

Saga Vol. 7, by Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples: I adore Saga; it convinced me to try other comics and graphic novels, but aside from Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, none have impressed me like Saga. This installment is pretty bleak, but I think that was to be expected. Can’t wait to see what’s in store for Hazel and her family next.