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The best recent poetry – review roundup

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Whereas by Layli Long Soldier; When I Grow Up I Want to Be a List of Further Possibilities by Chen Chen; and Dear Big Gods by Mona Arshi

Layli Long Soldier’s formally inventive debut collection Whereas(Picador, £10.99) presents itself as poetic testimony and historic artefact, with genocide and cultural erasure informing her complex position as “a citizen of the United States and […] a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation”. Long Soldier’s lyrics, prose poems, erasures, cut-outs and resolutions embody her intimate relationship to “languageness” as being at once personal and political. In the book’s titular “Whereas Statements”, she interrogates “the history of the sentence” through the historical and current weaponisation of language against Native Americans by the US government. In what might be deemed the collection’s ars poetica, Long Soldier writes: “Whereas speaking, itself, is defiance”. As a document, Whereas issues a powerful riposte to the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans in which there is neither recourse for the “560 federally recognised tribes in the US”, nor official admission of blame: “Whereas I could’ve but didn’t broach the subject of ‘genocide’ the absence of this term from the Apology and its rephrasing as ‘conflict’ for example”. Through questioning the territorial reach of poetic syntax and lineation, Long Soldier disrupts the hegemony of the English language over land rights and legal apology, thus reclaiming the white page as a space of multilingual protest.

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