In Solmaz Sharif’s debut poetry collection Look, she incorporates United States Department of Defense terminology in order to simultaneously revolt against forced erasure and reclaim words that were once used for violent and oppressive purposes. This thesis argues that poetry is an inherently politicized, revolutionary tool that possesses the ability to radicalize and incite rebellion against silencing, dismissive power structures. Sharif’s identity, as an Iranian-American immigrant woman, is omnipresent in her own interpretation of familial trauma at the hands of American imperialist forces. In addition, the events of the late twentieth-century Iranian revolution that resulted in the deaths of many family members is instrumental to Sharif’s theories of collective trauma and subsequent written rebellion. I argue that Sharif’s position as an Iranian female poet is crucial in understanding the impact of her writing in which she stresses how the acts of composing and consuming poetry are intrinsically political and can lead to a greater understanding of the oppressors’ tactics. Sharif’s purposeful construction of a poetic collection that acknowledges personal and communal suffering at the hands of international, institutional forces is a tool, poised in its revolutionary potential.
This thesis is divided into three sections that engage the roles of Look as an entity and Solmaz Sharif as an author. In “A Political Existence,” I prove that poetry is not only inherently political, but can help form communal bonds and mobilize communities threatened with forcible erasure. Through critical analyses of Audre Lorde’s and Angela Davis’s works on art as a revolutionary tool in conversation with Sharif’s essay on the politics of poetic erasure, it is evident that poetry is a multidimensional phenomenon capable of inciting tangible change. “Looking Inward” is centered around two poems within Look that exposes internal side effects of American international imperialism. While much of Sharif’s criticism of the United States is targeted at the consequences of militarism abroad, this section engages with the institutionalization of racism and misogyny throughout American history. The final section, “Reaching Guantánamo,” exposes the quiet violence of redaction and erasure in a series of letters to an imagined prisoner within Guantánamo Bay. Overall, this thesis joins Solmaz Sharif in a call for rebellion, searching for truth and finding strength in revolutionary poetry.