Feeld by Jos Charles


charles-jos-feeldLanguage. It’s as slippery and fluid as gender. And some of us need poetry to grasp that.

Charles, Jos. feeld. Minneapolis, MN: Milkweed Editions, 2018. Print.

Genre: poetry

Summary: Jos Charles, trans editor and poet, recipient of the Poetry Foundation’s 2016 Ruth Lily & Dorothy Sargent Rosenburg Fellowship, crafts poetry in Chaucer’s English to simulate and capture a transgender existence.

Critique: About the time I found feeld at my public library, I had just listened to a series of mind-blowing podcasts on gender; how it’s determined genetically, why it’s never fixed or chemically constant, and how modern society is coming to terms with new definitions and expectations for “female,” “male,” and everything we now realize is possible in between.

(Curious? Check out RadioLab’s “Gonads” series.)

These episodes broadened my scientific understanding of the gender spectrum; however, Jos Charles’ poetry irrevocably enlightened my internal, heartfelt sense of that spectrum.

At first, reading a contemporary text in Middle English (the version of medieval English best preserved in Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales) was jarring. Middle English arose after the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The cultural, social, political upheavals waylaid what had been a relatively standardized language. In other words, grammar rules, punctuation patterns, and spelling conventions all went out the window. Consequently, when I read Middle English, I am reminded of my earliest attempts to spell without adult/academic supervision. Acting with only the slimmest understanding of phonetics, I (and many young children) kobbul letrs that mach the sownz uv the werds.

Under Charles’ precise, poetic influence, the Middle English spelling variations result in sparkling homonyms and heteronyms that spur new understandings, reinterpretations, and re-appropriations.

For instance, Charles’ writes:

1 drags so much alonge the bottom off the see


i care so much abot the whord i cant reed/ it marks mye back wen i pass


as mye hole extends it nevre entres conchesness as myne

See or sea. Whole or hole. Reed or read. Either way, these words resonate with so much fecund and versatile meaning that suddenly all the standardization rules built into modern English to produce precise, clear, unambiguous communication seem limiting and naive. To that same end, all the societal conventions we’ve built into gender definitions to prohibit the unambiguous also seem to hamper more than help.

See or sea? Hetero or homo? Male or Female? What’s the difference and who cares if I am not truly comprehending and appreciating the inherent and beautiful complexity that is humanity?

Beyond Magenta by Susan Kuklin

Kuklin_MagentaKuklin, Susan. Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out. New York: Candlewick, 2014. Print.

Genre: Nonfiction

Summary: Photographer Susan Kuklin compiles the stories of 6 transgender or gender-neutral teens as they transformed from male to female or female to male. Whichever way they go, these young souls discover that to be happy with who you are on the inside, you must also feel comfortable with what you are on the outside.

Critique: In honor of Caitlyn Jenner’s debut to the world, I just had to share this very excellent book! Whether the former Olympic gold medalist’s gender transformation had you clapping your hands or scratching your head, this book is worth your time and attention. Kuklin profiles six teens and pretty much transcribes their responses to her interview questions. The result is their voice, their take, their experience and profound insight. Photographs fill up other pages, tracking the metamorphic transformation. These photos are more than before-after snaps. They are a revelation of what it looks like when the soul does not harmonize with its shell–and how radiantly it glows when it does!

The stories all revolve around the central question of happiness. What would you be willing to do in order to be happy? It’s a fair question; one we all face.

This book as a lot to teach about the nuances that differentiate gender from sexuality, as well as queer from gay from trans from a million other potential identities. Perhaps the photo-essays from Cameron (who is also featured on the book cover) say it best, likening gender to a spectrum in which some people float while others swim. Unlike floaters, swimmers control where they are on the spectrum at any given time. Is someone in your life learning to swim that spectrum–a friend, a sibling, a partner, a child, a parent? Maybe just you.

Either way, when it comes to achieving happiness, don’t get stuck dog-paddling!

Also, because this is an annotation, it’s worth listing the “few” awards and honors heaped on this book’s shoulders…

A 2015 Stonewall Honor Book
Flora Stieglitz Straus Award for Nonfiction, 2014
Publishers Weekly’s list of Best YA Books of 2014
Kirkus, 10 Best YA Books, 2014
CCBC Choices, Best-of-the-year, 2014
Blue Ribbons, The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books, 2014
TAYSHAS 10 Best Books, Texas, 2014
The Advocate, 10 Best Books list for Transgender Non-Fiction,2014, Advocate.com
Books for a Better Life Awards, National Multiple Sclerosis Society [Finalist]
Shelf Awareness, Best Books of 2014
Booklist, Editors’ Choice for 2014
Finalist, Lambda Literary Award, a “Lammy”
Finalist, Cybil Awards 2014
Finalist, 2014 Foreword Reviews’ INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award for Young Adult Nonfiction
Notable book, National Council on Social Studies, 2015
ALA Rainbow List, 2015
Top 25 pick for IRA Notable Book for a Global Society