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Cover of Look
Look
Poems
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*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 Defense Dictionary 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"

*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 Defense Dictionary 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"

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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.
Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from June 20, 2016
    Sharif defies power, silence, and categorization in this stunning suite of poems and lyric sequences that examine the toll of war and the language of war on persons and tongues. Drawing upon the lexicon of the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, Sharif produces a document of her Iranian family history, her personal life, and a shared cultural history intertwined with war and surveillance: “Daily I sit/ with the language/ they’ve made// of our language// to NEUTRALIZE/ the CAPABILITY of LOW DOLLAR VALUE ITEMS/ like you.” Elegies for her Amoo (uncle), who was killed in the Iran-Iraq War, share space with lists of war atrocities and the banalities of military life, lyric poems about her immigrant family’s experiences of surveillance, excoriations of Israeli apartheid and war crimes, and redacted letters to a detainee. Sharif returns repeatedly to the DOD dictionary terms, resulting in brief, fragmented, and powerful accounts of terror: “they LOOK down from their jets and declare my mother’s Abadan block PROBABLY DESTROYED, we walked by the villas, the faces of buildings torn off into dioramas, and recorded it on a hand-held camcorder.” In form, content, and execution, Sharif’s debut is arguably the most noteworthy book of poetry yet about recent U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the greater Middle East.

  • Library Journal

    Starred review from June 15, 2016

    Destruction radius. Collateral. Distressed person. Language can be so drained of emotional content that we're safely distanced from the reality behind it. But in these raw, unsparing poems, Rona Jaffe Award winner Sharif closes the gap, making language itself the issue as she investigates the consequences--particularly for herself and her family--of America's invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq ("My life in the American/ Dream is a DOWNGRADE"). Chillingly, Sharif often splices in phrases taken from the U.S. Department of Defense's Dictionary of Military Terms ("Ladies, bring your KILL BOX, Boys, your HUNG WEAPON. You will push WARHEAD MATING to the THRESHOLD OF ACCEPTABILITY"), and we learn how thoroughly war and the refugee's flight permeated the consciousness. VERDICT Highly recommended.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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