In Look, Solmaz Sharif rewrites the military dictionary to investigate the ways that language may be appropriated and changed, the way definition can be used to obscure meaning rather than to illuminate. One of the most powerfully intelligent and formally fascinating books of poetry I've read, Sharif's debut collection is urgent, asking us to care for the language we use, reminding us that words matter, have consequences, and that it is our responsibility to use them in ways that do not further proliferate harm. Look has been, for me, a kind of cornerstone for many of the books of documentary poetry that are coming out today — books that ask us to LOOK at the world, a verb that implies action and receptiveness at once. Recommended By Darla M., Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
A powerful, innovative exploration of the language of war by a new poet of passion and conscience.
Daily I sit
with the language
of our language
the CAPABILITY of LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMs
You are what is referred to as
— from "Personal Effects"
Solmaz Sharif’s astonishing first book, Look, asks us to see the ongoing costs of war as the unbearable losses of human lives and also the insidious abuses against our everyday speech. In this virtuosic array of poems, lists, shards, and sequences, Sharif assembles her family’s and her own fragmented narratives in the aftermath of warfare. Those repercussions echo into the present day, in the grief for those killed, in America’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and in the discriminations endured at the checkpoints of daily encounter.
At the same time, these poems point to the ways violence is conducted against our language. Throughout this collection are words and phrases lifted from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms; in their seamless inclusion, Sharif exposes the devastating euphemisms deployed to sterilize the language, control its effects, and sway our collective resolve. But Sharif refuses to accept this terminology as given, and instead turns it back on its perpetrators. "Let it matter what we call a thing," she writes. "Let me look at you."
"[Solmaz] Sharif is poised to influence not only literature but larger conversations about America, war, and the Middle East." The Paris Review
"Sharif defies power, silence, and categorization in this stunning suite.... In form, content, and execution, Sharif's debut is arguably the most noteworthy book of poetry yet about recent U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the greater Middle East." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review)
"[Sharif's] poetry flicks between lyric and lexicon while still sounding like music; in her hands, language is as pliant as warmed wax.... It is the central miracle of Look that Sharif shows us the real intensity of her conceit without veering into triteness. She is, in turns, icy and searing, but consistently fierce and beautiful." NPR.org
"Look creates an after-image similar to that of Robin Coste Lewis’ National Book Award-winning 2015 debut, Voyage of the Sable Venus, with its meditation on the long aftermath of slavery and diaspora. Like that book, Look feels like a disassembled museum exhibit with the occluded stories — the ones not told — written into view. Look, it compels you to do, and you will." Los Angeles Times
"[An] excellent debut collection.... In Sharif's rendering, 'Look' is at once a command to see and to grieve the people these words describe — and also a means of implicating the reader in the violence delivered upon these people.... An artful lexicographer, Sharif shows us that the diameter of a word is often as devastating as the diameter of a bomb." The New York Times Book Review
"Sharif’s skillful debut collection draws on a Defense Department lexicon of military terms." The New York Times Book Review, Editors' Choice
"Remarkable.... By turns fierce and tender, the poems are a searing response to American intervention." The New Yorker
"[Sharif] forces you to suspend yourself and consider your relationship to language really deeply." NPR, All Things Considered
About the Author
Solmaz Sharif has published poetry in the New Republic and Poetry, and has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts. She is currently a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University.