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To describe the trans experience, this poet created a new dialect

Part science fiction, part medieval reinterpretation, “feeld” by trans poet Jos Charles can feel like a puzzle, making readers work for its meaning.

Charles wrote her second collection in an alternative English, born from her desire to imagine an “adjacent world,” where the language evolved differently, thus changing how we talk about — and view — certain subjects. Particularly, for Charles, how we talk about gender.

“When I was young, trying to find the right words was the hardest thing,” Charles said of her conservative, evangelical Christian upbringing. She tried finding words that were closer to what she wanted to convey, a way to “create and survive” with what limited vocabulary she had.

The language of “feeld,” according to Charles, is like an artifact from a different time, a kind of “lost Middle English” that addresses, in Charles’ view, a historical lack of options to describe the trans experience in our language.

bieng tran is a unique kimde off organe / i am speeching
materialie / i am speeching abot hereditie / a tran
entres thru the hole / the hole glomes inn the linden / a
tran entres eather lik a mothe / wile tran preseeds / esense
/ her forme is contingent on the feeld

Charles sees language as a space where “identity and history” play out in their own world. Like the title of the collection, Charles treats language like an open field, a clearing in which something new can be built. Her re-spellings embody this philosophy, challenging readers to explore the open spaces, new meanings and, perhaps, find their place in them.

“Someone had to prepare the ground for something to emerge,” she said. “Some sort of structure that’s not there yet, but it’s been prepared to emerge there.”

Read a selection from “feeld” below.

From “feeld”


a tran lik all metall is a series of sirface in folde / wee
call manie of thees foldes identitie / sum spase shufles
betweene / trauma or hemorage or othere / this is 1
membraine / 1 folde in yet a nother membraine / a
folde of 1 membraine maye be conected 2 or similre 2 a
folde inn a nother & yet stil smaler membraine / wen a
folde squyshes or colapses a membraine or inhabits a
nother folde upon folde upon folde / this is struktur
or gendre or tellavision or a united stats / u maye
be manie foldes but not / like the waye an asse
bothe is & isnt conected to this chare / fase / layk


We knu a historie off
feeld / r reckage off treees existing tot & securelie / the
wharing masckulin economyes / the wite pryeing off
eech berch treee / a tran dubbles inn 2 the hearthe off
actualie / a kinde off big beef feeld off thynglienesse
unfoldeing / reckinglie / i was ur perfeckt lil
imperialist / wite aesteet inn amonge the crop of nowe
/ gendre / a holie pirsentile / dessicating uprite &
terrortorialie / but owened / i was hote shitt / anoge
the downd crop of mare / mye estrogyn / the urin
concentrat off pregnynt mares / gendre write then wrot
in the swalow / thomas sayes trauma lit is so hote rite nowe

From “Feeld” by Jos Charles (Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2018). Copyright © 2018 by Jos Charles. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions. milkweed.org

Jos Charles (Photo by Cybele Knowles)

Trans poet, writer, translator and intertextual artist jos charles is the author of the poetry collections “Safe Space” (Ahsahta Press, 2016) and “feeld” (Milkweed Editions, forthcoming September 2018), a winner of the 2017 National Poetry Series, selected by Fady Joudah. She is the founding-editor of THEM, the first trans literary journal in the U.S., and engages in direct gender justice work with a variety of organizations and performers. Charles earned her MFA from the University of Arizona. Charles was a 2016 recipient of the Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Poetry Fellowship from the Poetry Foundation. She lives in Long Beach, California.