FEATURE

Words Into Action

Look BY Solmaz Sharif. Graywolf Press. . $16.

The words from the United States Department of Defense's Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms that are used throughout Solmaz Sharif's incredible first poetry collection, Look (2016), show us how language can be both weaponized and disarmed. In Sharif's evocative, often fragmented reports, assemblages, family narratives, and personal accounts, terms like diversion, shadowing, celestial guidance, damage area, stop-loss, and dormant begin to break down, leak, and implode under the pressure of the poems that contain them. We are rarely given "official" definitions for these words, but we feel their connotations, and obscured violences magnetize. This book makes visible how such words are deployed, and asks us to consider our complicity in constructing and maintaining systems that threaten our lives. "Battlefield Illumination" is envisioned as "on fire / a body running." A list poem comprising names of military operations is followed by a snapshot of a relative lost to war, showing us a horrific sequential outcome. Look forces us to examine, through its spliced, recalled, and redefined systems of both personal and specialized language, how the decisions of the state (linguistic, tactical) subjugate the realities, rights, and livelihoods of citizens, immigrants, and families. Sharif's devastatingly skilled and expressive oscillation between lexicons makes this book a vital resource for the challenges we face in the coming year and beyond.

Claudia Rankine is the author of Citizen: An American Lyric (Graywolf Press, 2014).