from Vaporative

by Layli Long Soldier

copyright ©2017 by Layli Long Soldier

However a light may come
through vaporative
glass pane or dry dermis
of hand winter bent
I follow that light
capacity that I have
cup-sized capture
snap-like seizure I
remember small
is less to forget
less to carry
tiny gears mini-
armature I gun
the spark light
I blink eye blink
at me to look
at me in
light eye
look twice
and I eye
alight
again.

Notes on the Poem

As we make our way through the poetry collections on the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize shortlist, Poem of the Week now casts its gaze at "Vaporative", a selection from Layli Long Soldier's Whereas. As the 2018 Griffin Poetry Prize judges observe, Long Soldier "lay[s] bare the murderous hypocrisy lurking behind the official language of the state" by "deftly deploying a variety of techniques and idioms". The slim icicle of simultaneously precise and elusive wordplay that is the opening section of "Vaporative" might not, at first glance, seem to be as pointed an examination of troubling and deceptive uses of language as, for example, the "Whereas" section of the book is. But in fact, "Vaporative" is pointed: figuratively, as it unspools words that as they're spoken can artfully mislead ("I blink eye blink"), and literally, as the words on the page assemble into the honed tip of a knife. Concrete poetry is clearly one of the forms the judges commend Long Soldier for wielding with such effect. We're reminded of the combination of visual interest and emotional resonance that Liz Howard achieved in her poem "Boreal Swing". While the power of concrete poetry is lost when the poem is read aloud, Long Soldier also bolsters this poem's potency with delectable words. This sequence cries out to be read aloud: "I follow that light capacity that I have cup-sized capture snap-like seizure I remember small is less to forget less to carry" In the introduction to the Whereas Statements at the heart of this collection, it's a dagger thrust of trenchant irony when Long Soldier points out that the Congressional Resolution of Apology to Native Americans was never read aloud, publicly. Even though the suggestion in this poem that words spoken or recorded on the page are perhaps ephemeral - they vaporize - Long Soldier has combined visual impact with sonic powers that drive home the point (yes, that word bears repeating) that whether or not words are viewed, not viewed, spoken or not spoken, they can endure, for good or for bad.

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