Solmaz Sharif examines what it means to exist in the nowhere of the arrivals terminal, a continual series of checkpoints, officers, searches, and questionings that become a relentless experience of America.
... a dazzling collection ... Through her poems, Sharif rebels against gatekeepers, memorializing small and large violations of the spirit and body. She skillfully employs syntax and placement to signify the outsider experience, and how many voices and narratives have been silenced. Her poems often exhibit a wide expanse of white space to frame powerful linguistic fragments, which are complete in their vivid imagery yet leave room for personal interpretation ... Sharif uses language, often fragments with extended impact, to unveil the indescribable and to embody emotion that language can’t possibly express, but in such talented hands, somehow does ... In some sections, Sharif beautifully creates blizzards of white space with words or couplets, interspersed like small people from a distance or footsteps of those who’ve come before. The reading process forces our electronically trained mind and visual cortexes to slow down and also physically presents the hesitations of searching for words that may not be found, in languages in which one may not be fluent. Sharif’s language is spare and all the more sharp for what remains, for all that she has left out, as the sculptor does with a slab of marble ... This is poetry—this is a poet—that marvels us in manners minute and majestic. That will always be current, of its time, of our times.
Customs inspects language itself as a device for colonization and country-making, which in this land is the same ... At times, Sharif is the speaker in her poems, retelling with clarity and cunning the relationship between agents of the state and subjects of state surveillance ... these poems...illustrate the sense of belonging one must develop to themselves, to art, and to the pursuit of liberation, especially if one thinks they cannot truly belong to the country in which they live ... Sharif makes clear her political and poetical influences in these poems, which deal in freeform, syllabic, and epistolary structures ... At times, Sharif is the speaker in her poems, retelling with clarity and cunning the relationship between agents of the state and subjects of state surveillance ... Part of what a settler-colonial nation state demands of its people to maintain order, function, complicity, and compliance are certain forms of speech that are deferential to power and dismissive of one’s needs. We do this regularly and fluently in America, where police kill Black people over the course of a traffic stop. Participating in this form of language is integral to saving one’s life, but it’s a trap, Sharif seems to say, negating one’s power.
Solmaz Sharif’s spectacular sophomore collection, Customs, is filled with crushing poems that carry weariness, rebuilt and disrupted again and again ... Customs builds a collection from the tensions that exist in the word 'customs' itself: tradition, ritual, longevity; but also: a border, a declaration, a sterile proceeding. It is through these tensions that the poems of Customs arrive, some sharp and heavy-hitting, others long and drawn out with ample space on the page. Whether in the collapse of logical reason in 'Social Skills Training'—a prose poem that ends with the gutting line, 'Solmaz, have you thanked your executioner today?'—or the enormity of 'An Otherwise,' Customs' strength comes from its ability to be vulnerable and determined all at once ... In a massive feat, Customs continues the work of Look, pushing its mission forward with a new slate of sharp, memorable pieces that are set to inspire yet another generation.