Jos Charles. Milkweed, $16 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-57131-505-2
Language, artifice, and gender transition all come under scrutiny in this disarming and engrossing second collection from Charles (Safe Space). This 2017 National Poetry Series winner is composed in an idiosyncratic orthography (“a tran lik all metall is a series of sirfase in folde / wee call manie of thees foldes identitie”) and loosely centered in a “feemale depositrie room.” The collection undoes easy divisions between interior and exterior or science and nature, such as when the estrogen from a mare’s urine becomes central to an ecosystem of gender transition usually thought of only in medical terms. As Charles writes, “i cant aford not 2/ nede / a mare.” The poems’ unusual spelling, a bravura pattern somewhere between Old English and modern phonetic, can be disorienting at first. But careful phrasing and simple forms studded with slashes draw the reader into the variety of possibilities these spelling choices offer, creating a surprising, if challenging, intimacy. Even seemingly straightforward spelling variations offer rich associations, such as when “our” becomes simply “r” or when “invagination” becomes “invagynation.” Throughout, readers are subject to a careful recalibration of values, as Charles shows that a form is not important because it is static but rather because of the ways it changes, moves, and is perceived. (Aug.)
Reviewed on: 07/16/2018
Release date: 08/14/2018
Genre: Fiction
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