Last month, at our November meeting, we discussed Layli Long Soldier’s award-winning poetry collection, Whereas (Graywolf). The discussion allowed some members to admit that they didn’t “get” the poems, or poetry as an art form—which opened up a larger conversation about if there’s anything to “get” in the first place. Some members explained that what we “get” from poetry can be, and often is, subjective. Other members expressed, especially as it pertains to Long Soldier’s poems, that sometimes there are things that are off limits that can’t be “gotten.” Then there were members who believed poetry isn’t as esoteric as it’s made out to be, and that everything to understand a poem is in front of us.
With all the varying ways to see, members read their favorite poems from the collection and sharing their insights and interpretations. Those moments were as revealing as they were rewarding. Revealing in a sense that the readings, and subsequent insights, helped people glean a bit more about the poems and how people think; and rewarding because reading aloud is a very intimate act. Whether or not we “got” the poems, what many of us understood about Whereas is its ability to show the violence committed against Native American people, the effects of that history, and what it feels like to be robbed of a land and language all at the same time. That was something we all felt.