Sharif wrote these poems in 2008 after reading an article about Hamdan in The New York Times. All nine are linked from Paperbag’s table of contents for their summer 2010 issue.
These poems navigate the incendiary human territories of war, torture, and erasure. By erasing words to mimic government redaction of documents, Sharif’s poems evoke the loss, separation, and anguish inflicted by censoring a person's communication, and by the collateral individual and cultural erasures that can result.
However, Sharif’s practice of erasure differs from that of her peers who blackout or erase words from real source documents to isolate words they wish to remain as a poem. Through this process, they exert a power similar to that wielded by governments when they redact sources.
Reaching Guantánamo resists this pattern by erasing imagined words instead. Since she is not striking words from real letters, Sharif was not privy to any details Hamdan was actually denied; she saw no words now hidden from the reader. Through the process of imagining these letters, she birthed each absence, each denial of intimacy and ancestry, each anxiety-provoking deletion.
Consider the denials and deletions in this poem's opening lines.
Sharif wrote an essay about her perspective on the poetics of erasure for Evening Will Come. A Stegner Fellow, she is currently "working on a poetic rewrite of the U.S.Department of Defense Dictionary."
Her poem "Family of Scatterable Mines" was published in The Forbidden: Poems from Iran and Its Exiles (Michigan State UP, 2012). Others, such as "Look," "Mess Hall," and "Drone ," are available online. Paired with the latter poem by Sharif, "The Cup Runneth Over" by Shailja Patel, whose collection Migritude was reviewed here in January, provides a similar perspective on drones.
In a Kenyon Review interview, Sharif said it surprises her that "in addition to empathy, my writing requires a callousness. Maybe this is the nature of the material I immerse myself in—mostly testimony of warfare and imprisonment. Maybe this is the nature of the craft—that putting language, putting music first requires a kind of violence."
It appears that the summer 2010 issue was Paperbag’s only publication, so it's uncertain how long the site will remain available.