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Customs by Solmaz Sharif – Book Review

Solmaz Sharif’s first UK-published poetry collection encourages us to ponder the many barriers and security points that exist in our world, which can often leave many feeling nomadic, lacking belonging. Customs is a poignant reflection on the U.S. and its many checkpoints and searches when arriving in the country. We are offered an exploration of belonging, identity and border control, which manifests itself as much in format and technique as much as content and language. 

Credit: Emma Larsson

Poems such as ‘Social Skills Training’ and ‘Planetarium’ are like structured like chaotic blocks of text. This use of form adds to this feeling of chaos that intrusive security checks and questions of validity can throw one’s mind into.

‘Now What’ is a contemplative post-modern envisioning of what the future hold for migrants in the U.S. ‘Learning Persian’ is a phonetic piece that focuses on language in syllabic fashion, listed as one would learn a language. These works and styles are varied, but the common thread that ties them together is the feeling of being on the outskirts of society. 

Customs is a beautiful collection filled with pathos that leaves you cold at points with its outsider connotations, giving the reader a mirrored sense of displacement. Thematically, the collection works as an observation on how one can feel like an outsider in a country suspicious of ‘foreigners’, and I look forward to more collections from Sharif, if they continue to be as masterfully ponderous in form, style and sharpness. 

Customs is out now, published by Bloomsbury Poetry.   

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