a Year & other poems
A Lambda Most Anticipated LGBTQIA+ Book of March 2022
The Rumpus Poetry Book Club Selection for March 2022
From the celebrated author of feeld comes a formally commanding third collection, dexterously recounting the survival of a period suffused with mourning.
Jos Charles’s poems communicate with one another as neurons do: sharp, charged, in language that predates language. “A scandal / three cartons red / in a hedge / in / each the thousand eye research of flies.” With acute lyricism, she documents how a person endures seemingly relentless devastation—California wildfires, despotic legislation, housing insecurity—amid illusions of safety. “I wanted to believe,” Charles declares, “a corner a print leaned to / a corner can save / a people.” Still the house falls apart. Death visits and lingers. Belief proves, again and again, that belief alone is not enough.
Yet miraculously, one might still manage to seek—propelled by love, or hope, or sometimes only momentum—something better. There is a place where there are no futile longings, no persistent institutional threats to one’s life. Poems might take us there; tenderness, too, as long as we can manage to keep moving. “A current / gives as much as it has,” writes Charles—despite fire, despite loss.
Harrowing and gorgeous, a Year & other poems is an astonishing new collection from a poet of “unusual beauty and lyricism” (New Yorker).
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Praise and Prizes
“The luminous latest from Charles unfolds in a series of short lyrics over the course of a year, holding time's progression in a delicate balance with a changing self . . . Readers are asked to wade into the idiosyncratic language of another's mind, and to be transformed by it . . . Charles's abstract and elegiac lyricism lends beauty to these intriguing pages.”
“[Charles’s] spare lyrics emerge from the page in Sapphic fragments, striving to articulate not the physical presence of things, but the nearly invisible traces their absence leaves on our consciousness. The result is an inner life sculpted in language, one revised to weather a new, if diminished, future . . . Charles remains a serious experimental poet who has tasked herself with the challenge of creating ‘a language capable of itself.’”
“Spare and elegantly crafted, [Charles’s] poems read like spotlights in the room of the page.”
“Flashes of interiority, memory, and attention bring the space of this particular time in the speaker’s life into relation with the living that goes on happening on either side of its arbitrary limits…a Year & other poems is so staggering precisely because of how relentless Charles is in her commitment to reaching despite and because of, in equal measure, loss.”
“If Charles’s previous book, the Pulitzer finalist feeld, employed Chaucerian language as a way of gaining lyrical access to time-traversing realms of consciousness, the poems here seek to strip language to its borderlines—between self and other, past and present, private and public—not to evanesce in abstraction but to hold the mind within contrarious states of being . . . The result is a beautiful, elemental poetry.”
“[a Year & other poems is] astounding, the poems charged like the moment before a static shock, documenting losses, fears, and longings both personal and collective . . . I remain deeply moved by how carefully and intentionally Charles selects and places each syllable on the page, and by how that care extends to us as readers.”
“In a Year, Jos Charles writes of gratitude made wise by grief, grief made whole by joy. ‘Months / I move in you,’ she says—time is the subject, time is the beloved, time wraps its arms around us to soften our pain, diffuse our suffering. ‘When was it ever September, tides pouring over / When whales like men moved about the earth.’ There’s not another poet alive who could have written that, who could have built this astonishing monument to enduring, one moment at a time, despite. ‘In the street / they are starting fires It warms even us.’ Charles has given us another masterpiece. I sit, gratefully, at her feet.”
“‘Months / I move in you’: so begins this brilliant lyric cycle, a daybook, a hymnbook, a book of whispers to the dead and the living, a book of lullabies, of songs, of spells. I can tell you that Jos Charles is one of my most favorite living poets. But what does that mean? It means that Charles can see how our ‘world is / a lake the shape of / a lake’ and set it to music. It means that she makes me believe in pure lyric again. It means that Charles knows how silence speaks between the lines, between syllables, and shows it to us as the pages (and days of the year) turn. Here is a poet who is a cousin of Niedecker and Celan and Valentine, a maker of silences that speak, of grievances that lyric us. It means Jos Charles is a kind of poet whose writing teach us to pay attention to our language again, because attentiveness is the natural prayer of the soul. Because a true understanding is always silence. ‘I go / to put holly to the lip’ she says, and she takes us readers along for the ride. What a gift. Listen carefully to these pages, and you will find a ‘wind / on a microphone,’ and you will hear how ‘we wept / a quiet English / the day contained.’ What good luck to live in a time when such innermost music is made.”
“A consummate craftsperson, Jos Charles crafts lines brief as a single syllable with a universe of meaning, where sentences do not know their end or beginning. A layered work of fierce tenderness, a Year & other poems simultaneously holds, and is held in place by, an inner framework of language that astonishingly and brilliantly is further deployed in the service of the language of the poems. This was a Year that I did not want to end.”
“Measured in event and situated in survival, the poems of a Year & other poems contemplate form and the clock of calendar as they lyric and listen with thoughtful grief-rage. Of landscape and precarity, of naming and process, this quietly powerful verse cuts “like a scabbard we shuffle through.”