Layli Long Soldier’s “Obligations 2” comes from her first full-length collection, 2017’s Whereas. It is an amazing poem that will challenge students on a couple levels. While the language is very simple, the structure is a puzzle with many answers. I can imagine students engaging with this poem both in terms of its content and its form. Possible discussion questions include:
1. What is the subject of this poem?
2. What is Soldier’s attitude toward grief?
3. How different are the different readings based on how you choose to progress through the poem? Is it possible for them to be contradictory?
4. Why would an author give the reader so much freedom in how to read a poem?
5. Since each reader can have a different experience, can the poem really be said to mean anything for certain?
6. What choices does Soldier make for the reader, and why?
7. How does Soldier’s choice of verbs help create complexity?
8. How does repetition function in the poem?
9. What word might you replace the word “grief” with?
Another possible exercise would be to have students try to create a similar poem, though possibly shorter.
John Waite an English teacher at Downers Grove High School in Illinois.