“Look”, an examination of what war really costs

Look by Solmaz Sharif
Graywolf Press, 2016 | $16 | 4 stars
Review by Kelsey May


I read Solmaz Sharif’s Look in a grocery store while waiting for someone to finish shopping, and I was hard-pressed to put it down afterward, wanting instead to reread sections and spend more time absorbing Sharif’s powerful observations. This collection focuses on war, violence, and sacrifice, offering an emotional, personal critique of freedom, “self-defense”, and weaponry.

Sharif’s poems hone in on safety, home, and who has access to the privilege of being protected. The poems examine these topics from a variety of perspectives: soldiers, land, civilians, children, refugees. In one, she writes:

A body falls
and you learn to step over

a loosened head. You begin to appreciate
the heft of your boot soles,
how they propel you,

how they kick in
a face…

You tighten your laces

until they hold together
a capable man…

So the hands
that said they never would
begin finding

grenade pins around their fingers…

In another piece, the speaker confides:

According to most
definitions, I have never
been at war.

According to mine,
most of my life
spent there…

The war in Iraq, I read,
is over now…

In 2003, a man held a fistful
of blood and brains to a PBS camera
and yelled

is this the freedom
they want for us? 
It was from his friend’s
head…

We say the war is over, but still
the woman leans across
the passenger seat

my son, my son. 
I wasn’t there
so I can’t know, can I?

The desperation and anguish of loss is clear in these poems. War is not glorious. War is not a game. War is grief and crime and death and too great a price to pay. I highly recommend this collection to readers who care about justice and activism. The fight against violence continues.


Look is available from Graywolf Press for $16. Thank you to Graywolf for the review copy!

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