Poetry News

Newsweek Profiles Solmaz Sharif

By Harriet Staff


Visit Newsweek to learn about Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry fellowship recipient and National Book Award finalist, Solmaz Sharif. Sharif explains that a poet's mission is to be "a bane to the republic. Because the republic is built on a destruction of language. A kind of obliteration of language that will enable and excuse violence against bodies. My job is to interrogate and agitate that as often as I can." Yes! More:

One poem lists American military operations: Beastmaster, Hickory View, Riverwalk, etc. Another lingers with dark, dry humor on “WARHEAD MATING” and “HEIGHT HOLES.” A third injects missile-technology lingo into the Book of Ecclesiastes: “For what is your life? It is even a THERMAL SHADOW.”

The poet responsible for these verses is Solmaz Sharif, and when I meet her at a fashionable Oakland, California, café, she looks like one of its fashionable denizens, not someone who, by next week, could be the winner of the National Book Award for Look, her first book of poetry, which is political and confessional—and which relies heavily on terminology from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms.

Not even the title of the volume is exempt from this intriguing confluence of the personal and the martial. Look is an invitation to the reader, but this most quotidian of words also describes, according to the military dictionary, “a period which a mine circuit is receptive of an influence.”

For Emily Dickinson, life was “a Loaded Gun.” For Sharif, it is a mine primed to blow. The title poem (which contains the Ecclesiastes reference) moves from a moment of intimacy, to a Hellfire missile being fired on Iraq, to a kind of unease about the American project, as befitting a poet born in Turkey to Iranian parents who settled in Los Angeles. As far as poetry goes, this is closer to Apocalypse Now than John Ashbery.

Continue reading at Newsweek.

Originally Published: November 14th, 2016