October 22, 2018


By Jos Charles
Review by
Long listed for National Book Award in poetry, Jos Charles' feeld is a hybrid work of medievalism and digital nativism.
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If language is a space, who is allowed in? If history is a story told by the powerful, what gets left out? With her second full-length collection feeld, poet Jos Charles twists these two concepts together and bends them to her will. The result is a wholly avant-garde book of poetry that reveals a queer history embedded in the castaway detritus of our language.

A winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series, Charles’ feeld is a hybrid work of medievalism and digital nativism. The numbered, unnamed poems operate in a mode that’s part-Middle English, part-texting lingo, brazenly synthesizing these two poles: in one poem the speaker tells us “it is horribel / of corse to be / tangibel,” wisdom that feels timeless; later, “thomas sayes trauma lit is so hote rite nowe,” a statement decidedly post-2010s. 

Readers looking for a historically accurate pastiche of Chaucer will be flummoxed. So, too, will those looking for the clear-eyed contemporaneity of Charles’ previous work. The obscure misspellings, surprising homophones, and wildly oscillating register of the poems work together to construct a small, hermetic world of their own. Reading this book feels like piecing together the forgotten scribbles of an alternate dimension’s literary history. 

Having remixed the past, Charles places queerness at the center and explores it from newly revealed angles. Her poems are fragmentary, beautiful, and inventive. Poem “VII” informs us “a tran lik all metall is a series or sirfase in folde / wee / call manie of these foldes identitie” and suddenly, identity is made material and pliable, likewise language. Just as the reader is able to grasp this idea, the poem ends with a surprisingly humorous turn, “u maye / be manie foldes but not / lik the waye an asse / bothe is and isnt conected to this chare / fase / layk.” 

By the end of the collection, one is struck by how perfect the title “feeld” is: the book is both a fertile, untrodden space and a flurry of emotion warped through the past tense, less felt and more feel-ed. 

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By Jos Charles
ISBN 9781571315052

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