A Brief Review of Solmaz Sharif’s Look

There is a kind of poem that makes you inhale sharp and deep.  Sometimes it’s because of the lyricism, or the image that cuts straight to it, or a subject that makes you see and feel in an altogether new light or darkness, or maybe its a new way of using language.  Look is 28 of those poems in a row. 28 sharp, deep inhales only exhaling as the end cover is closed and even then, the memory of these poems will stick with me always.  The entire collection begs, as the title suggests, for the reader to look — to look carefully, honestly.  Even the definition of the word look is called into question, so pay attention.

I don’t want to try to explain the book to you, because I want you to read it without my stumbling attempt of explanation mucking things up. But I can tell you this, Solmaz Sharif uses language from the United States Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms in a way that challenges every word used to talk about war. Sharif could easily rely on this as tactic or trick, but she makes the words her own.  She tackles language with languages not her own and turns the words into images and stories that force attention an arena where screaming and strict rhetoric reign, the screaming dulls and these poems are what need to be heard, to be seen, to be felt.

Here are a few glimpses into the poems that will make you catch your breath, over and over, like an incantation said while running toward safety:

“Daily I sit
with the language
they’ve made

of our language

like you.”

from “Personal Effects”

“Chest films taken at the clinic. The doctor’s softly
splintered popsicle stick. By five, I knew I was

a HEALTH THREAT. The daylong waits, the predawn lines.
Stale taste of toothpaste and skipped breakfast.”

from “Expellee”

“Whereas the lover made my heat rise, rise so that if heat
sensors were trained on me, they could read
my THERMAL SHADOW through the roof and through
the wardrobe”

from “Look”

Get your copy of Look by Solmaz Sharif here.

And you can find links to more of her work over at her website.

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