Solmaz Sharif

Iranian Poet & Essayist
National Book Award Finalist

Readings & Lecture Topics

• An Evening with Solmaz Sharif


“Solmaz Sharif is insistent that the reader understand that there is something awry, something lurking below the surface level of today’s media and discourse, and she’s going after it without hesitation.” —The Rumpus

“An artful lexicographer, Sharif shows us that the diameter of a word is often as devastating as the diameter of a bomb.” —Natalie Diaz, NYTBR

“My job is to agitate and make again and again alive and wild and, well, free the languages we live by.” —Solmaz Sharif

Born in Istanbul to Iranian parents, Solmaz Sharif’s astonishing debut collection LOOK (Graywolf Press) was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award and 2017 PEN Open Book Award. In 2017, Sharif was the recipient of the 27th annual PEN Center USA Literary award in Poetry for LOOK. In LOOK, she recounts some of her family’s experience with exile and immigration in the aftermath of warfare—including living under surveillance and in detention in the United States—while also pointing to the ways violence is conducted against our language. Throughout, she draws on the Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, the language used by the American military to define and code its objectives, policies, and actions. The Publishers Weekly Starred Review said, “Sharif defies power, silence, and categorization in this stunning suite. In form, content, and execution, LOOK is arguably the most noteworthy book of poetry yet about recent U-led wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the greater Middle East.” And The New Yorker said: “By turns fierce and tender, the poems are a searing response to American intervention—‘Hands that promised they wouldn’t, but did.’”

In her essay, “A Poetry Of Proximity,” Sharif writes, “It can take sixteen seconds for a Hellfire missile with its trigger pulled in Las Vegas to reach Mazar-e-Sharif. This is both much and little, both closer and more distant than we have ever been in warfare….A poem is similarly much and little, distant and close, but where one tries to increase the distance between bodies, the other tries to close. Where weapons try to limit the possibilities of speech and thereby the possibilities of desire, of recognition, poetry exists in speech. Where one has no song, the other is only.”

According to most

definitions, I have never

been at war.

According to mine,

most of my life

spent there.

Sharif’s poems and essays have appeared in The New Republic, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, jubilat, Gulf Coast, Boston Review, Witness, Volta, and others. The former managing director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, her work has been recognized with a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, scholarships the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, a winter fellowship at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, an NEA fellowship, and a Stegner Fellowship. She has most recently been selected to receive a 2014 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award as well as a Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. She holds degrees from U.C. Berkeley, where she studied and taught with June Jordan’s Poetry for the People, and New York University.

She is currently a Jones Lecturer at Stanford University.

Solmaz Sharif’s Website


Born in Istanbul to Iranian parents, Solmaz Sharif holds degrees from U.C. Berkeley, where she studied and taught with June Jordan’s Poetry for the People, and New York University. Her debut collection LOOK (Graywolf Press) was a finalist for the 2016 National Book Award and 2017 PEN Open Book Award. In 2017, Sharif was the recipient of the 27th annual PEN Center USA Literary award in Poetry for LOOK. 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.


LOOK (Poetry, 2016)

“Sharif’s poetry flicks between lyric and lexicon while still sounding like music; in her hands, language is as pliant as warmed wax. It is the central miracle of LOOK that Sharif shows us the real intensity of her conceit without veering into triteness. She is, in turns, icy and searing, but consistently fierce and beautiful.” ―NPR.org

A finalist for the 2016 National Book Award and 2017 PEN Open 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.”


Read Selected Essays by Solmaz Sherif

The Near Transitive Properties of the Political and Poetical: Erasure – Evening Will Come Journal of Poetics

A Poetry of Proximity – Kenyon Review Online

Blogger: Solmaz Sherif – Kenyon Review Online

Choosing to Behond: On the Cover of Look – Graywolf Blog

LOOK

It matters what you call a thing: Exquisite a lover called me.
Exquisite.

Whereas Well, if I were from your culture, living in this country,
said the man outside the 2004 Republican Nation
Convention, I would put up with that for this country;

Whereas I felt the need to clarify: You would put up with
TORTURE, your mean and he proclaimed: Yes;

Whereas what is your life;

Whereas years after 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 handheld camcorder;

Whereas it could take as long as 16 seconds between
the trigger pulled in Las Vegas and the Hellfire missile
landing in Mazar-e-Sharif, after which they will ask
Did we hit a child? No. A dog. they will answer themselves;

Whereas the federal judge at the sentencing hearing said
I want to make sure I pronounce the defendant’s name
correctly;

Whereas this lover would pronounce my name and call me
Exquisite and lay the floor lamp across the floor,
softening even the light;

Whereas the lover made my heat rise, rise so that if heat
sensors were trained on me, they could read
my THERMAL SHADOW through the roof and through
the wardrobe;

Whereas you know we ran into like groups like mass executions.
w/ hands tied behind their backs. and everybody shot
in the head side by side. its not like seeing a dead body walking
to the grocery store here. its not like that. its iraq you know
its iraq. its kinda like acceptable to see that there and not—it
was kind like seeing a dead dog or a dead cat lying—;

Whereas I thought if he would LOOK at my exquisite face
or my father’s, he would reconsider;

Whereas You mean I should be disappeared because of my family
name? and he answered. Yes. That’s exactly what I mean,
adding that his wife helped draft the PATRIOT Act;

Whereas the federal judge wanted to be sure he was
pronouncing the defendant’s name correctly and said he
had read all the exhibits, which included the letter I
wrote to case the defendant in a loving light;

Whereas today we celebrate things like his transfer to a
detention center closer to home;

Whereas his son has moved across the country;

Whereas I made nothing happen;

Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is
your life? It is even a THERMAL SHADOW, it appears
so little, and then vanishes from the screen;

Whereas I cannot control my own head and it can take
as long as 16 seconds between the trigger, the Hellfire
missile, and A dog. they will answer themselves;

Whereas A dog. they will say: Now, therefore,

Let is matter what we call a thing.

Let it be the exquisite face for at least 16 seconds.

Let me LOOK at you.

Let me LOOK at you in a light that takes years to get here.

—from LOOK