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Without a doubt one of my favorite poetry books I've read in a good while! I was astonished by how well she wove the terms from the Military Dictionary into her poems, and in such a wide variety of ways, from creating her own definitions to taking a long definition of a single word and incorporating phrases and words from it over the course of a poem--the result is surprising , beautiful, and warm. I loved the way she was able to take the military terminology and relate it to US involvement in the Iraq war (the conflicts, the horror, the destructiveness) and also to connect it all to day-to-day life, to love, to relationships, and to the overall mundane aspects of our lives. I can't wait to see what she writes next!
Using language in unexpected ways is not just the purview of poets. Sharif examines the usage in the Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms from the US Dept of Defense. The effect is powerful. A gifted poet.
“Sharif's first poetry collection tells the story of the punishing legacy that enduring warfare can have on a family. She expertly utilizes language lifted from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms to demonstrate how we have sanitized the language of warfare into something more benign and seemingly less deadly. The essential task of poetry is to engender empathy and to speak truth to power; To that end, Look succeeds in spades.”
— Matt Keliher, SubText: A Bookstore, St. Paul, MN
*Finalist for the National Book Award*
Solmaz Sharif's astonishing first book, Look, asks us to see the ongoing costs of war as the unbearable loss 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 discrimination 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 DefenseDictionary 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."
Daily I sit with the language they've made
of our language
to NEUTRALIZE the CAPABILITY of LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMs like you.
You are what is referred to as a "CASUALTY."
--from "Personal Effects"
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.