Poetry News

Washington Post Reviews Solmaz Sharif's Look and More

By Harriet Staff


Washington Post poetry reviewer Elizabeth Lund invites readers to take a look inside a few of her favorite collections each month. For the month of July, she's chosen works by Solmaz Sharif, The Complete Poems of Alvin Feinman, and poetry by Marianne Boruch.

Look (Graywolf) is the remarkable debut by Solmaz Sharif, who challenges readers to consider the suffering caused by war. Sharif, who was born in Istanbul to Iranian parents who fled their homeland after the 1979 revolution, recounts some of her family’s experience with exile and immigration as they made their way to the United States, and were forced, early on, to separate. Sharif’s mother worked briefly as a nanny in Alabama and her father took odd jobs in New York. Later the family endured heightened suspicion in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. As the speaker relates memories and grieves for those who have been killed, she uses words from the Defense Department, recasting them to show how war distorts language and perception. In a moving sequence about her Uncle Amoo, who fought in the Iran-Iraq War, she says: “You are what is referred to as/ a ‘CASUALTY.’ Unclear whether from CATALYTIC or FRONTAL ATTACK, unclear/ the final time you were addressed/ thou, beloved. It was for us a/ CATASTROPHIC EVENT./ Just DESTROYED.” Later she describes a photograph in which he is peeling apples, and his bare feet “are/ the only things that/ made me cry.” Every piece underscores the importance of how we view and name things. Even the book’s title, a term that refers to mine warfare — admonishes readers to think about their own ideas and impressions.

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