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.