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This review is taken from PN Review 240, Volume 44 Number 4, March - April 2018.

Cover of Look
Mary Jean ChanThe Exquisite Face

Solmaz Sharif, Look (Graywolf) $16.00;
Pascale Petit, Mama Amazonica (Bloodaxe) £9.95
As a 2016 National Book Award finalist, Solmaz Sharif’s Look will be familiar to admirers of contemporary American poetry as an extraordinary book painstakingly wrought from the ruins of the Iran–Iraq war (1980–1988). As such, Sharif’s debut collection is aptly fragmentary, its formally experimental poems littered with terms mined from the United States Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. As an American poet of Iranian descent, Sharif offers a profound perspective on how American foreign policy must necessarily be interrogated through the lens of its own violent lexicon – the way ‘LOOK’ refers to ‘a period during which a mine circuit is receptive of an influence’ – even as the speaker confronts a war-mongering Republican: ‘You would put up with TORTURE, you mean and he proclaimed: Yes;’, then offers a heart-wrenching aside: ‘whereas I thought if he would look at my exquisite face / or my father’s, he would reconsider;’. Look highlights the casualties of imperialism, the innumerable ways in which, for most, ‘there is no part of your life that has not been somehow violently decided for you by a narrative that was established before you were even born’ (‘An Interview with Solmaz Sharif’, The Paris Review).

The opening poem, ‘Look’, is one of the collection’s most thought-provoking, its ‘whereas’ statements allowing the speaker to marry disparate realities that are often unbearable for us to associate: the callous ease with which fighter jets routinely conflate a ‘child’ for a ‘dog’, or track a human’s body heat in order to locate a ‘PINPOINT TARGET’, which Sharif poignantly defines ...


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