Poetry News

Lena Khalaf Tuffaha Looks at Language of Militarism and Myth in Solmaz Sharif's Look

By Harriet Staff
Solmaz Sharif, Look, cover

"I think of Edward Said’s Orientalism as I read Solmaz Sharif’s outstanding debut collection Look not only because of the landscape of the poems," writes Lena Khalaf Tuffaha in a powerful review-essay at Poetry Northwest. "Rather, I’m thinking of its audience and the language we share." More from "My Dear collateral damage":

...This is a book of poems of and for us, the War-on-Terror Era readers. We, citizens of a nation endlessly at war, are re-awakened to the legacy of our language by Sharif’s work. From our first encounter with Look, the blinking double o’s of the title hold our gaze. Is it an imperative verb? An invitation? Or is it a noun? A posture?

Even before reading the poems, we learn from the epigraph that “look” is defined in the US Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms as “in mine warfare, a period during which a mine circuit is receptive of an influence.” A “look” is—in the vernacular of these poems and the nation that represents us—a breath held, one in which a weapon lies in wait. In Sharif’s finely-wrought lines, the use of this and other military terms evokes the full scope of context and meaning. Sharif’s poems point our shared language back at us—the Empire’s English, rife with the accumulations of its deeds and escapades.

Sharif’s typographical choice to present these words in small caps throughout the text sets up an intimate correspondence between poet and reader. Though they are visually distinct from the rest of the text, the small caps offer no instructions on how to read the words—they aren’t italicized in the way dialogue or foreign languages sometimes are in poetry. Rather, they operate as a visual indicator of the identity of the words, of their origin story...

Read on at Poetry Northwest.

Originally Published: February 12th, 2019