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.”
With Look, Solmaz Sharif bears fierce and elegant witness to the violence wrought by imperialism, Islamophobia, and other engines of our so-called war on terror. Whether describing a drone strike or a conversation with a lover, the loss of freedoms or of a family member, Look is always inventive in its use of form and haunting in its vulnerability. Sharif confronts the paradox that “vagabonds, fugitives” must use speech to address the unspeakable, and on every page reminds us that the language of violence is no less dangerous—no less real—than what it describes.