Born in Istanbul to Iranian parents, Solmaz Sharif holds degrees from U.C. Berkeley, where she studied and taught with June Jordan’s Poetry for the People, and New York University. Her work has appeared in The New Republic, Poetry, The Kenyon Review, Granta, and others. The former managing director of the Asian American Writers’ Workshop, her work has been recognized with a “Discovery”/Boston Review Poetry Prize, Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, and an NEA fellowship. She was most recently selected to receive a 2016 Lannan Literary Fellowship and the Holmes National Poetry Prize from Princeton University. A former Stegner Fellow, she is currently a lecturer at Stanford University. Her first poetry collection, LOOK, published by Graywolf Press in 2016, was a finalist for the National Book Award.
What does it mean to write about the body, land, culture, or socioeconomic infrastructure in today’s social and political landscapes? When does writing become politicized? Is there ever a time when writing about our bodies or land can be separated from the political? This panel focuses on questions around writing as a political act and expression.
We are told "show, don't tell." And while this is a useful adage, just where does it come from? What does it prevent us from saying? What political inquiry is shut down as a result? In this session, we will look at the power of statement in poetry.
The job of the poem (I tend to think in terms like “job” and “duty” and “responsibility,” though readers are free to exchange these terms with “possibility” or “joy” or some other soft-footed term) is to make alive in the reader the rendered experience, which may or may not awaken possibilities of political action, but I don’t believe in vanguardism in literature or in politics, so I don’t have an action I’d prescribe. This makes me more of an agitator than, well, a legislator, because, yes, even my political poetry forefather Shelley’s famous dictum, “Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” irks me.
That said, my intention as a person is to end US imperialism, at home and abroad. Period. This intention does not evaporate when I write a poem, just as no marker of identity, no meal eaten, no words read, no lullabies sung, no spiritual sense of place, no sense of self evaporates, though some might insist it does and should.
The language of “Look” is a body that cannot be separated from its maker — it is always the best and worst of its speakers’ desires, needs and actions. Language can never be innocent. An artful lexicographer, Sharif shows us that the diameter of a word is often as devastating as the diameter of a bomb. When she writes, “Let me look at you,” the mine detonates and a single line rings through the entire collection into the larger world of poetry and life: “It matters what you call a thing.”