Conference Proceeding

Solmaz Sharif’s ‘Exquisite Face’ of the Other: Creating Grievable Lives through the Lyric



Lyric poetry is a genre constantly being renegotiated and redefined. From the fragmented parchments of Sappho’s ancient sung texts to the “American Lyrics” of Claudia Rankine, part of the thrill of the lyric form is its mutating nature. Solmaz Sharif’s poetry book, Look, is a masterful adaptation of the lyric form. Her poems combine erasure, Department of Defense terms, Wikipedia entries, and references to the Iran-Iraq and US wars of imperialism, collaging experiences of soldiers, immigrants, and citizens on both sides of the United States’ so-called War on Terror. In a world of political extremes, “cancel culture,” and reactionary social media platforms, Sharif’s political lyrics question representation itself. She calls upon her western reader: “It matters what you call a thing: Exquisite a lover called me. / Exquisite” (3), acknowledging the lyric’s traditional apostrophe—the fragile woman. Look's opening lines juxtapose the speaker’s exquisite body with the objectified targets of the Iraq war detailed throughout the poem: “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” (3). The speaker is both the Petrarchan beloved and the military target, a target that refuses to remain outside the frame of war: “Whereas I thought if he would LOOK at my exquisite face or my father’s, he would reconsider” (4). While beautiful, Look is not a fragile collection of poems: her work is emotionally haunting, filled with raw, violent images. Particularly when viewed against the backdrop of the white, masculine lyric, Sharif’s work enacts social renegotiations of the lyric.

Keywords: lyric, Solmaz Sharif, Look, representation, Other, Judith Butler, grievable lives, Iran-Iraq war poetry

How to Cite: Capecchi, M. (2020) “Solmaz Sharif’s ‘Exquisite Face’ of the Other: Creating Grievable Lives through the Lyric”, Iowa Journal of Cultural Studies. 20(1). doi: