Finalist for the 2016 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Poetry
Safe Space takes back its title from the term’s intentional misuse within the neo-liberal/conservative imaginary, but this action can offer a reader only the slightest indication of the nervy energy pulsing within this first full-length collection by Jos Charles. Throughout the poems in Safe Space, Charles defiantly articulates the terms of a radicalized vulnerability––unashamed to feel and never feeling ashamed, reclaiming agency over both poetry and politics, refusing to placate any authority attempting to control bodies with violence. The poet’s agile lyricism rips apart and reimagines theoretical discourses as confessional texts and vice versa, with severe lines and staccato rhythms. As a hyperkinetic interrogation of contexts that give rise to its disruptions of, and interventions on, youth, sexual trauma, and transness, Safe Space is critical reading in both senses of the term. The collection dazzles and devastates, confronting a world whose ruin is long overdue with equal parts glee and sadness, compassion and power.
“Is it risk when the writing feels like the only way to stay alive? Do we say ‘staying alive’ or ‘getting over’ when wit swims and turns and leaps ahead like a dolphin friend wearing a cute beanie who doesn’t care if you’re keeping up? Jos Charles announces early in this collection that their ‘american// corpse has been such/ a disappointment.’ These poems know well enough that not everyone would demur so over the dead American. Still, they tender their ‘fisty filth’ in the ‘fiscal light’ to anyone’s appetite. And though their wit and intellect go off ahead, these poems abide in the persistent actual, goading us to grow the shapes we need, whispering with what I have to call a social magic, ‘Even carrots do it.’” —Farid Matuk
“Sutures sewn and ripped and sewn again, these are the poems you and I know we have been awaiting, the poet Jos whose anvil gets hammered inside us all the way. You are going to smell everything stronger no matter what you smell, you have entered this book because you do not want the world to ever be the same. You have always wanted poems that make better questions for our living, and it is in your hands now.” —CAConrad
u may not know this about me
but i grew up a gay baby
in the united states of america
The united states was then a briefly lived
conceptual project performed by pop artist
john baldessari Children
were a primary form of currency and u
would often see them
on beaches or in strip malls
advertising diet books and drinking espresso
On a typical day in the united states
people would send each other text messages
like what chemicals are in ur body
today In the united states
u could always say sexualize my crisis
in the right poem It's hard
to believe but to this day they still hi five
each other in the united states Once
when exchanging my brother's favorite pathology
for a pair of cirque du solieil tickets
i saw a t shirt that said a hole
is a hole is a hole in fort myers, florida
Copyright © 2016 by Jos Charles
“Unabashed defiance and vulnerability, subversion of cultural and poetic mores, and verbal accountability and slippage provide the foundations of Safe Space, Jos Charles’s first book. Using as its title the now highly politicized term, Safe Space openly challenges popular and academic discourse about gender, history, and the value of the individual within the contemporary United States.” —from the review in Scout Poetry
After receiving a Bachelor of Music in Composition at Biola University’s conservatory—a private Christian university in Southern California, where I was involved with queer, trans, and gender equity on campus—I received an MFA in Poetry from the University of Arizona.
Being in a moment when trans women, especially trans women of color, are portrayed as technological constructions, horrors of hormones, surgery, and other encultured and enculturing practices, I want my writing to reflect a lyricism to the theory, cuteness within grief, juvenilia to survival. I am natural and real, and yet I don’t want my work to outright reject the production involved in my being trans. After all, to deny such history would be not just to deny the work I’ve done to write and look this damn good, but also to deny the ways in which cisgender women are likewise culturo-technological products, a realization of colonialist gender ideologies, bio-political control, and capital. I, as a trans feminine subject, write the limits and faults of this emergent site of gendered labor that I am—not as opposed to cis womanhood—but as typical of the demand to exist-as-gender, while not being afforded ownership of gender, that exists within patriarchal empire.
Among my awards are the 2015 Monique Wittig Writer’s Scholarship and being chosen as a reader by the City of West Hollywood Cultural Affairs for their 2013 One City, One Pride. My publications include poetry with Action Yes, Denver Quarterly, BLOOM, Everyday Genius, and writing with BitchMedia, LAMBDA Literary, GLAAD, Original Plumbing, and Entropy.
If I could convince you of anything, here and now, I would want it to be to abolish all prisons, all borders, and all cops. If you’re a part of the bourgeoisie, there is hope: give all you have to the poor and needy, become a revolutionary communist, and follow Mongrel Coalition on twitter.
I am making amends with my world.
When considering the peripheral life of Safe Space, what it can and conceptually is able to do, one considers its disruptions of and interventions on youth, sexual trauma, and transness. That these sites under capitalism have purchase, are inevitable aspects of the ‘marketability’ of Safe Space’s life, is unfortunate, but, ultimately, preferable to being trans, traumatized, and young and having no such purchase.
The trope of the millennial is increasingly one who is always distracted by their phone, over-sensitive, and coddled; the trope of the survivor is a nitpicker, one who exaggerates and commodifies their trauma; the trope of the trans woman is angered, crazy, and always imagining violence where it’s not. There is here an overlap—to be a millennial is to be traumatized, to be a victim is to be coddled, to be trans is to be, if not dead, than a coddled youth nearing a-deserved-death. In short, to be a young trans survivor of assault is to forever wait (to be filled or killed), to be substitutable, and without witness. Conceptually this book’s value is to agitate this scapegoating through a raw presentation of the material scenes of violence that make up the day-to-day lyrical affects of one rape-surviving, trans millennial.
The ideal reader or interviewer would ask what is it to look up and find nothing is familiar; to not be welcome in it; to ache; to navigate the aches of others; to typify or atypify; to unlearn (and, tonight, there is much still to unlearn); to recognize; to imagine a common kind of recognition?
In a sentence one could say that as the trope of the censoring, trigger-warning-happy, coddled millennial becomes a commonplace punch line, Safe Space sketches the materials of another world—one where to be trans is to already be a censored body, to be a survivor of assault is to endlessly relive that assault, and to be young is to be helplessly more ancient than your boss.