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

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.

An excerpt from <em>a Year & Other Poems</em> by Jos Charles.
/ Milkweed Editions
Milkweed Editions
An excerpt from a Year & Other Poems by Jos Charles.

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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Jeevika Verma joined NPR's Morning Edition and Up First as a producer in February 2020. During her time there, she's produced a variety of stories ranging from Afghanistan peace talks, COVID surges in India and local & state elections. Verma also contributes to arts and poetry coverage for NPR's culture desk, and is always trying to get more poets on air. She leads the Morning Edition diversity council and works on DEI efforts across the network to help NPR live up to its mission.