'a Year & Other Poems' examines the passing of time alongside the passing of grief

'a Year & Other Poems' examines the passing of time alongside the passing of grief

3:16pm Mar 15, 2022
 a Year & Other Poems by Jos Charles
Milkweed Editions

In 2016, Jos Charles began writing a long poem called "a Year," which is broken up into sections by month.

"Months allow one to consider time in discrete chunks while at the same time being very silly," Charles says. "Because of course, time goes beyond the year, right? It's sort of a running parallel to the arbitrariness of the months."

Charles's third collection — including the poem "a Year" — titled a Year & other poems is out Tuesday. The book looks at this endless passing of time, and considers how to live with it.

In 2016, when first writing this poem, Charles had just moved to California after completing her MFA. She was out of work, and as a trans woman was dealing with issues of mental health and changes in medication.

"I applied for this coffee shop job. They had these rainbow flags outside, and they had a trans flag," she says.

When she went in for the interview, the shop told her to come back later. So she came back later, and again, they told her they weren't ready. After finally seating her the third time, they kept on bringing other people in to interview before her.

"And I'm just sitting there and I slowly realize I'm just never going to be interviewed," she says.

Charles refers to this feeling of alienation in the section of the poem titled "July." The poet says there was a time she would have let this get to her. "But it's almost a hard and fast limit that has nothing to do with my capacity. It has to do with being incapacitated," she says.

Recognizing these limits and structures that we live in can help, she adds. Because as time passes, so does the grief. And it's better to mourn that passing.

"And it hurts to mourn," she admits. "It requires its own time and velocity that doesn't map onto 'year time' or 'month time' or 'clock time' or 'checking in and out of work time'."

For Charles, the point of the mourning is not necessarily to end up at some sort of a resolution.

"I think there's a pretext with narrative and sometimes poetry, that things are supposed to land somewhere, and then you get some sort of meaning you can take out of it," she says.

But for her, even if absolute healing isn't where we're headed, knowing that there is an "after" can be worth it. And by understanding the limits that time places on us, we can learn to embrace it.

"The very fact of that 'after' might be enough to keep going," she says.

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Transcript

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Pulitzer-finalist Jos Charles has a new book exploring the progression of time alongside the passing of grief. NPR's Jeevika Verma spoke to the poet.

JEEVIKA VERMA, BYLINE: In 2016, Jos Charles began writing a long poem called "A Year," which is broken up into sections by month.

JOS CHARLES: Months allow one to consider the time in sort of discrete chunks while at the same time being very silly, because of course, time goes beyond the year, right? Sort of a running parallel to the arbitrariness of the months.

VERMA: The poem is out now as part of Charles' third poetry collection. When Charles started writing the poem, she had just moved to California, was out of work and, as a trans woman, was dealing with issues of mental health and changes in medication.

CHARLES: I applied for this coffee shop job. You know, they had these, like, rainbow flags outside, you know? And they had, like, a trans flag. And I went in to do an interview. And I walked in. And they said, oh, yes, yes, yes, you know? Come back later and we can do an interview. And then I came back. And they're like, oh, just have a seat. We'll get to you. And I'm sitting there, waiting. And I'm noticing people coming in and being interviewed, you know? And I slowly realized, I'm just never going to be interviewed.

VERMA: Jos Charles refers to this feeling of alienation and discrimination in the section of the poem titled "July."

CHARLES: Flags ask out. Pride winds from the terrace. Interview at 6. Interview at 8. A woman waiting unholds your form. A man's bathroom. I'm always in empty summer homes by the sea.

VERMA: Charles says there was a time she would have let this get to her. But she realizes that, as time passes, so does the grief. And it's better to mourn the passing.

CHARLES: And it hurts to mourn. It requires its own time, its own velocity that doesn't map onto the year, really, right? It doesn't map onto month time or clock time, or checking in and checking out of work time.

VERMA: Which is why embracing the limits of time can help.

CHARLES: And it may not be recovery, right? It may not be healing even. It might just be wisdom. But there is an after, you know? And the very fact of that might be enough to keep going.

VERMA: Jos Charles' book, "A Year & Other Poems," is out today as we're now two years into what feels like an endless pandemic. And perhaps by understanding the limits that time places on us, we can learn to embrace it.

Jeevika Verma, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ANDREW BIRD'S "THE HAPPY BIRTHDAY SONG") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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