What We Can Claim

“Solmaz Sharif: […] Also, the burden of narrative shouldn’t rely on immediate survivors alone. We in the States have the luxury of ‘not knowing’ just about everything we do globally, or domestically for that matter.”


I read Look a few weeks ago, which is Sharif’s fantastic National Book Award-nominated debut poetry book. In it she uses words from the Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms to write about various issues of war (both the American wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the Iraq/Iran war) as well as displacement and injustice. For a couple of years I’ve been mulling over the idea of ownership when it comes to war experiences. Do I have the right to comment on war? To write war poetry? My connection to war is tenuous at best, but it’s there. Still, I’ve felt silenced by the fact that I have been relatively cushioned from the wars of the the mid-augts to early 2010′s.

But I really admire what Sharif did with military language and how bold she was about crafting these poems about war even though she is not a veteran and has never been, physically, in war.

In several of these poems, she anticipates the question of who gets to write about war. She actually addresses the reader by writing “How can she write that? / She doesn’t know,” and later, “According to most / definitions, I have never / been at war.” The implication here is that she does have the right to write about war. These poems have essentially given me permission to write about my experiences–and some of the experiences I did not have but could have easily had–regarding the past 10 years of my husband’s military service.

I also love the idea of not leaving the burden of storytelling to just immediate survivors of war. Just by being U.S. citizens we’re all implicated in some way or another, and we should all interrogate what being in a perpetual state of war means for the volunteer U.S. soldiers who fight those wars and for the people who have no choice but to live in the midst of those wars.


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