FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION IN CONVERSATION WITH SOLMAZ SHARIF

FORWARD ARTS FOUNDATION: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?

SOLMAZ SHARIF: My mother would read me Whitman. There was Shel Silverstein. There were musical renditions of Rumi and Hafiz and Shamlu blaring from the tape deck. It was the intensity of feeling that drew me to poetry. And the intensity of address—the feeling of being addressed directly, of being recognized somehow when out in the world I was not recognized at all. Also, the line breaks. I remember reading a poem where the first line was “If”—just that: “If”—and how wild it made my mind. I honestly don’t really remember when I began writing poems. I don’t remember not writing them.

FAF: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?

SS: It means, I hope, the poem will reach people and that, I hope, someone feels recognized and spoken to and that, at least, which is no least at all, there is faith in my work, which is not necessarily how it feels plodding away alone.

FAF: Please tell us about the genesis of your shortlisted poem. Is it part of a collection or sequence? Where can a reader find more by you?

SS: This poem is a part of my first book, Look, which will be published by Graywolf Press in the U.S. in July 2016, and which deals with the language of state-sponsored violence. Or the violence of state-sponsored language. The title of the poem and the words that appear in small caps are terms taken from the U.S. Department of Defense’s Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms. Living in the United States means living in a false peace if any peace at all. The terms are meant to disrupt the pretty picture. And this poem like the others in the book asks: what do we look away from? what are the willed blindnesses of our lives? what are we forced to see?

FAF: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?

SS: Muriel Rukeyser, June Jordan, Adrienne Rich, Mahmoud Darwish, Yannis Ritsos, George Oppen, Gwendolyn Brooks—too many to name. I admire poets who refuse to bar the political from their work while refusing to capitulate to it.

FAF: What is next for you as a poet?

SS: In addition to my own poems, I’m working on translating Forough Farrokhzad, one of the most important poets in 20th century Iran, and one who deserves equal importance globally.