VIDA Reviews! feeld notes: feeld, by Jos Charles
The cover of feeld, by Jos Charles. An off-white cover with an illustration of something resembling a tumbleweed between the title and the author's name. At the bottom: "Winner of the National Poetry Series, Selected by Fady Joudah."
feeld, by Jos Charles. Milkweed Editions, 2018.

Jos Charles, there’s room in “thees wite skirtes” for thee and me, so let’s write these rites alchemically. I’m feeld-ing your book, by which I mean I am fielding your queeries and questyons and also I am catching feelings. By which I mean reading your book leaves me in a constant act of effortful yet fruitful trans*lation. By which I mean I am carrying your book, carrying you with me as I cross my own feelds (trans-latio: to carry across).

Yours is a language made strange: stretched and slanted and folded against itself so it veers in and out of recognizability. Flux language, queer language, dense/dance language: graphically compressed, sonically ambiguous. Certainly your Medievalist background as a scholar comes to the fore—and indeed, I’ve seen multiple reviews describe your work as “Chaucerian.” Nevertheless, this assessment feels reductive to me: your homophony relishes in myriad possibilities—makes room for other influences like Louis Zukofsky (his Catullus sequence) and Tommy Pico (his text lingo). Your gleeful misspellings also invoke a childlike innocence: preadolescent glory days when perhaps the pleasures of our bodies was not so thoroughly delimited.

Like a child, you treat words like Lego blocks and build your own “whorld.” Jack Halberstam makes a delightful trans* metaphor out of Legos his most recent book: “The world of Lego is one of constant transition, and while there is always the possibility of returning to the instruction sheet and following the step-by-step directions, the uncharted territory of creation always beckons.” This is what you do with language: throw out the instruction guide, enter uncharted territory. You show us that language can be a transitional feeld, like our own trans bodies. Step-by-step redirections, detours, digressions.

This is to say you find power in tearing apart words and making them anew, in intentional misapprehension and remaking. Words as escape velocity: evading our grasp then hurling us into new worlds imagined between the lines. The act of naming falls apart and so the word speaks for itself, calls itself a new name. Meanwhile we can only ravage for any “anteseedynt” we can find, then sow “a feeld / a felt // past thru / i wuld see u.” And so we remain, words echoing our baroque (but not broken) bodies. Behold our fecundity, our excesses. Where we’re “teemd”—teeming, teamed up.

Like multiple choice:  “inn / these the dreggs / the girl beguines”

a) in thee the drag / the growl begins
b) in these the dregs / the girl beguine
c) in this the dress / the gurl b gone
d) all of the above

There is queer pleasure in unraveling all of these permutations. There is toil, as well. The polysemy is conceptually and materially interesting but also exhausting (as the experience of navigating the world in a trans body can be). Reading hurts because it is an excavation of wound-sites. I have a hard time bearing, for instance, your all-bared “XXXIII:”

I trace the wounded “whord” throughout the poem, run my finger along its protrusions on the page, its anagrammatic splintering into existential questions of being (“who”), sex (“whored”), and “historie” (“woonds” recorded in “wood”). “I care so much abot the whord I can’t reed”—you spell “reed” and in the act of reading, you simultaneously plant a sheet of grass and plant a song on a failed instrument. The illegible word can’t be recognized in its singularity, in its complex polysemic harmonies. I care to hear the tune your reed carries: lamentation of its violent history. The whord leaves a mark on the body. These lines (melody lines, poetry lines, history lines, slash lines, scars) double as vicious lions, licking “woonds,” pecking wood. A whord is like wood insofar as it marks the trans body—history protrudes in the form of scars or aging rings on a tree. The whord folds upon itself, marks circling around the perimeter of the wood.

Annotating your book feels like fielding strings of continuous ampersands. Teething your well-plotted fields for tithes. Language traipses porously, edges subsumed so wee can leave the room beyond the traditional traps (“boye / grl / or worker // bee / all this bad det”). We can refuse interpellation, insist instead on the joy of interpolation. “Interpolation is a skirte / I ware.” Between thee and me, I think it’s more fun being too early, too far ahead for them to fathom.


A photograph of the author, Noa/h Fields, a genderqueer person with short black and gold hair and light skin, wearing a graphic tank top, outside at an event.NOA/H FIELDS is a writer and performance artist living in Chicago. They are the author of WITH (Ghost City Press, 2018).