In “LOOK,“ Solmaz Sharif assembles personal anecdotes and perspectives to show the way the War on Terror has shaped the people of the United States’ view on Iran’s beautiful people and culture. She asks us, citizens of the United States, to “LOOK” at what we’re doing in the Middle East. Her upbringing has given her a perspective on the war in Iran that needs to be heard today, and the poems in “LOOK” demand that readers ask questions about themselves, their soldiers, and the “enemy’s” soldiers that so few people dare ask. Sharif’s poems enlighten the reader of the circumstances beyond their experience. She emphasizes the “exquisiteness” of those viewed as monstrous. She shows our apathy through the use of “DRONES,” and our dismissive nature towards the lives of those who live there. It’s clear that she strives to replace our passive nature with a passionate one, and she intends to do so by making us “LOOK.”
“LOOK” relies primarily on two ideas to establish its basis. It uses the U.S. Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, particularly the 2007 version, to tell us how war affects the lives of individuals on both sides. It also uses her perspective as an Iranian-descended, Turkish-born, U.S.-raised woman to complicate public perception of war even further. Sharif blends these two ideas wonderfully, alluding to dictionary definitions of phrases like “BATTLEFIELD ILLUMINATION” followed by “on fire / a body running.” The use of military terms and definitions offers the apathetic perspective of soldiers, but her use of personal anecdotes heightens that connotation, even changing it from neutral and descriptive to painful. Her redefining of Military and Associated Terms tells the stories that the initial definitions were created to hide, of the people who are lost in the war, the people described as “Collateral” or “Dolly” by those who distance themselves from the lives in which they intervene.
On the page, Sharif uses disparate spacing, lines separated by empty space, and poems that consist of letters with redacted information all in order to show us the things we have been told not to look at. Sharif invokes a “VULNERABILITY STUDY” of people personally affected by the wars, “a newlywed securing her updo / with grenade pins” and “your face turning from mine / to keep from cumming.” She works on both sides of the war, though, showing U.S. military coming home to their family, saying, “’What a dramatic moment this is’” and “’What’s wrong? What happened? My buddy.’” She asks of these moments, of these two different portrayals, “’What does that say?’”
While the core of the poems lies in observing warfare and its atrocities – the untold stories and unmentioned perspectives – it also explores race and femininity in a way that shows their intersections with the war. Sharif grew up in the United States, but she refers to a conversation with her psychiatrist in which she was asked “’So you feel like a threat?’” Her response was “Yes.” She also asks us to look at times when she felt threatened because of her gender. She also tells of times with family and friends where her and their beauties were able to shine. She talks of pictures of family lost long ago, and of the effects of the war on them and on herself. Effects like “seeing a dead body walking to the grocery store” being “kinda like acceptable.”
This is what Sharif’s poems do best: they get the reader to look at all sides of the war in its entirety, see what it is doing to the victims and the perpetrators, see the vulnerabilities, but also the strengths in the victims and perpetrators of war. Anyone who takes interest in knowing the experiences of those whose lives are surrounded by war should absolutely read this collection of works. Anyone who wants to try to understand another point of view should read “LOOK” because it gives the reader an opportunity to do something so rarely done: look into the lives of another, vulnerabilities and strengths, valor and atrocities included.
About the Author: Solmaz Sharif was born in Istanbul to Iranian parents. She holds a degree from U.C. Berkeley, where she was a part of Poetry for the People, and from New York University. In 2014, she was selected to receive a Rona Jafe Foundation Writer’s Award. “LOOK” was a finalist for the National Book Award. Her works have appeared in The New Republic, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, jubilat, Gulf Coast, Boston Review, Witness, and various others.