Examining ‘Customs’: Examining Immigrant Adversity Through Complicated Verses | Arts


What happens when a person leaves a place but never arrives at their destination? What happens when an immigrant leaves their whole country and family behind to immigrate to a culture with no aligned values ​​and seemingly no sense of connection or acceptance?

In “Customs,” Solmaz Sharif examines the experience of American immigrants: “existing in the nothingness of the arrival terminal”—completely abandoning one’s people and one’s home, but never arriving at a culture of acceptance. Born to Iranian parents, Solmaz Sharif uses poetry to address the stark difference between her identity and American culture, and what it means to live in the no man’s land between two different cultures.

Much of the collection highlights Sharif’s culture shock with American materialism and his disillusionment with its glorification of war, its obsession with innovation and its tendency towards exclusion. In a poem titled “Planetarium,” Sharif describes his trip to Joshua Tree, marveling at the testing of explosives at a remote airbase reminiscent of shooting stars, and pondering the glorification and beauty America can find in war. .

“Now What,” one of the first poems in “Customs,” explains American discontent and the constant need for innovation and materialistic gratification: “On Instagram: A man / bought a ten-by-four foot photo / of a bridge / he lives / next to it, bridge that he can see just outside / his window, window that serves / as a frame of ten feet by four feet”

America is not the land of the free, writes Sharif, even for those who can walk through the wall. The central theme of the work focuses on the displacement and lack of acceptance of a culture so often heralded as a melting pot. Sharif calls America a “kingdom,” a kingdom in which immigrants live on the edge. Beyond physical exclusion, however, Sharif suggests there may be an even more painful and less physical exclusion – cultural avoidance from within. In “Without a witch,” Sharif writes, “I am without a kingdom / And so from this one. / I am– / even inside the realm– / without”.

As the speaker finds herself physically in America, she laments the common truth of immigrants that they never experience cultural acceptance. And, if his writing revolves around his experience of immigration, the very structure of the poetry confirms the incessant identity battle of immigrants. The very last stanza of the poem cuts through the middle of the sentence as if the story portrayed through this poem was ongoing, never over – just as its life between cultures will remain.

The style of the poetry itself reads as if looking into the inner thoughts of the speaker; the ideas themselves are profound and illuminate the struggle of immigrants, though the fragmented stanzas and structure often disrupt the flow of reading and the overall message. The combination of prose and fragmented poetry can make this piece of poetry inaccessible to the average reader.

Although it may be difficult to understand at first glance, “Customs” gives the reader the opportunity to empathize with a speaker deeply troubled by the immigrant experience. By sharing his experience, Sharif seeks to reshape the way readers perceive America’s relationship with other cultures and calls for a change in the way America accepts difference. It’s normal for a track called “Customs” to have so much to say.

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