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"Until now, now that I've reached my thirties; / All my Muse's poetry has been harmless." This line, from the poem "Desired Appreciation,"speaks to the shock that aging into "a brain born into war"can bring; it's this shock, this coming-through-the-numbness, that drives Solmaz Sharif's masterful Look. These poems do not offer narratives of aging beyond trauma. Instead, they are prayers of the most desperate and urgent order. A mother puts a gun in her baby's crib. Laughter is tape-recorded and bubble-wrapped. Doctors shock dogs to teach themselves about "learned helplessness." "And when she asks / does this mean he will die? I say yes / without worrying it will break her."
Look is made to break us. It drowns us in the language of war and devastates. It will also, likely, be the boldest, most masterful collection to be released in 2016. Do NOT turn a blind eye to it.
*Finalist for the 2017 PEN Open Book Award* *Finalist for the 2016 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.
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