Authors / What Matters Most

Jos Charles' a Year & other poems is a door left open to form, fire, and fate

Milkweed Staff — 06/28/2023

The year is 2021, and wildfires are ravaging the West Coast. America is in lockdown, and time as we know it has come to a grinding halt.

Enter the poet Jos Charles, whose seminal collection of poems, feeld, was named a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and just recently, one of “The 25 Most Influential Works of Postwar Queer Literature” in the New York Times Style Magazine. Charles is a trans artist, and no stranger to devastation—so it comes as no surprise that their followup act, a Year & other poems, is as unprecedented as the times that gave rise to their weight. Guided by her terse-yet-prescient voice, readers bear witness to an urgent harnessing of destruction and enduring, an earnest reckoning with the abyss and spaciousness, and a humble plea to tend something soft and hopeful atop the fertile remains of a scorched earth. Charles also invites readers to bear witness to a window into the soul of an artist clawing their way to the surface in a world indifferent to their demise. “A current / gives as much as it has” Charles writes, among glimmers of recurring tragedies and persistent beauty. Coherence is a flickering guiding light in her lines, but nothing in these poems is accomplished without a deft hand; each word is another stone painstakingly balanced atop its predecessor in a cairn twisting between fire and fate.

If a Year & other poems is an elegy to a year awash in flame, it is also a reclamation of memory, and a testament to the beauty of all things that endure beyond time. Every fragment is a month, and each month spills into the book-length poem that captures a year unlike any other. Charles asks us to imagine how we might create something from nothing, as her poems do, in both form and function. No imagination is required of our response; we need only remember.