Leon Baham, Brains, Dead Babies (&Now Report #2)

by on Oct.20, 2011

&Now – wasn’t it awesome? I am aiming to stretch out my inspiro – and the swag I picked up (new Birkensnake! new Anna Joy Springer! Joyelle’s Necropastoral chapbook! etc) – at least until the semester’s over and I can climb into radical writing as much as I want.

Among my enthusements:

1) meeting TC Tolbert – what a pleasure! TC is, with Tim Trace Peterson, co-editing an anthology of trans and genderqueer poetry. It’s an incredible, exciting project; trans/gq folks: consider submitting!

2) meeting Leon Baham, whose chapbook Ponyboy, Sigh: A Word Problem (Birds of Lace Press) is one of the most interesting pieces of writing I’ve read recently. Didn’t catch his performance but chatted with him and c. vance at the mixer – awesome folks! Great to meet you.

Re: Ponyboy, Sigh, a minireview of sorts: This thing is all voice, all affect — a trembling incantatory yearning with a revolving chorus stumbling in and out. In moments, in its nervous, theatrical swarm of language, reminds me of Johannes’ Entrance to a Colonial Pageant.

Lots of wry humor coming from contradiction, repetition, strange syntax, punctuation choice, which I love:

I am Ponyboy. I’m 17 years old. I don’t like girls. I live with my mother. She is a nymphomaniac. She tells me about it. No she doesn’t

I am Ponyboy. I am ruined. No I’m not. I feel like it but my mom says not to trust even one thing I feel which is so hypocritical. When I was underwater right now it was cold or I was thinking Johnny Johnny Johnny. How many people get to drown in the name of their lover. If I ever acted badly it was only to elicit a response. Only to see if someone loved me enough to say my name. If I stabbed Johnny it was only to hear him sigh Ponyboy. To see him look at me like more of a little brother than he had ever been. If I drowned in the lake I did it for Johnny Johnny Johnny.

Enter Chorus

A chorus of disassembling birds

First wings

The rhythm and timing, so good – kind of Acker-esque in its turns. Indeed, at one point “a chorus of Kathy Acker” enters to announce:

Ponyboy was a little girl who wanted to be nice and new and loved. Many daddies handed her to one another slipping a 20 in a handshake as she was sent away. Ponyboy sat on the knee of a daddy and said but if I am your daughter than I must surely get an abortion or else I will give birth to a strange dear monster. The daddies had a conference and agreed….

You’re right, that is a chorus of Kathy Acker.

This book will be a chapter in The Book of Imaginary Boys, which Leon is working on presently. I am impatient, Leon. Work faster!

3) The Excess and No Future panels were astounding, confounding, genius. I’m hoping you all will post your papers so I can stop referring to my inadequate notes.

4) I was also floored by Lucy Corin’s reading – the torrent of dead baby jokes, which was part of a larger narrative involving madmen – wishing I had written some of it down. Many sentences followed this structure: “The only difference between a xxxx and a dead baby is that a xxxx doesn’t [awful description of some awful thing that a madman might do with a dead baby]. Genius, dangerous material.

5) I really appreciated the interdisciplinarity of panels like the Mad Science of Narrative (Janice Lee, can’t wait to read your book!) and The Matters of Mind featured event — Vanessa Place’s conceptual pieces adjacent to V.S. Ramachandran’s lecture on synesthesia: great curation. Dr. Ramachandran’s talk brought me back to my undergraduate years, when I was earning a degree in cognitive science and working in a neuro lab. (My first published poem was informed by a ferret exsanguination/decapitation procedure — a love poem.) I had to quit though — things were too empirical. As Tim (Jones-Yelvington) observed after Matters of Mind, it’s too bad there wasn’t more time for questions because there did seem to be some interesting oppositions among the panel presenters in their ways of thinking about language, thought, metaphor that could have been drawn out via Q&A. Bhanu Kapil made an attempt by asking Dr. Ramachandran “And where is like located in the brain?”  (I’m paraphrasing) — he didn’t quite take the bait, though.

6) Great hanging with Tim — even though we’re both in Chicago, I don’t see him enough. And August Evans! One of my favorites. It was fun talking to Kate Zambreno too — someone I run into at readings and AWP but never get a chance to really sit down with. That I finally got to was wonderful and long overdue.

7) So, too, with the Montevidayo panel – thrilled to have been a part of it, and to have had some face time with the Montevidayans who were present. I’m realizing in retrospect that, in addition to my relentless gender anxiety, I was expressing a good deal of genre anxiety at the bar after the panel — “I’m not a poet, but…” — which is strange, given that I’m usually the one to refuse those genre divisions. I’m miffed by, and apologetic for this unwarranted reification of poetry-fiction binaries. To quote a chant from an Ultra-red performance (qtd in A Megaphone): “I am confused [pause] I’m I’m I’m confused.”

In any case: so much good talking — more, please! When?

8 ) See also the &Now blog, which is being updated quite a lot.

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14 comments for this entry:
  1. Johannes

    That book looks awesome. Will have to get a copy.


  2. adam strauss

    P’Boy, Sigh is awesome! I heartily reccomend the book!

  3. Tim Jones-Yelvington

    His performance with Christine Nguyen was also wonderful, I wish you (Megan and Johannes) could have seen it.

  4. adam strauss

    A bit more: the Baham is a marvelous mix of tender and gnarly; or maybe more accurately gnarly and tender.

  5. Joyelle McSweeney

    I wish I could buy things with gnarly tender.
    all the things I need.

  6. adam strauss

    Ha-ha: tender as adjective turned into the monetary unit–I love the riffing!

  7. gina

    megan milks, you are a fucking treasure. thank you for your support of BoL titles once again! i am mad about ‘ponyboy, sigh’ and glad to hear you are too. wish i could’ve made it to &now, it sounded fabulous. have you dug into ‘the vicious red relic, love’ yet? it is THE BEST. xox

  8. Joyelle McSweeney

    I ordered the book and plan to teach it next semester here at Notre Dame.

  9. megan milks

    hi all! adam, yes, those are the perfect words for Ponyboy. i need to get a copy of your chapbook too! been meaning to. ordering now…

    gina, it is you who are the treasure! thanks for putting these texts into the world. and yes, i’m reading The Vicious Red Relic, Love at present. moving slowly, it’s so rich and full — loving it — so good.

  10. adam strauss

    Megan, thank you for the kind words; and I hope you enjoy PAGE: it’s, frankly, nowhere close to as delicious as PonyBoy, Sigh; it’s almost–ugh– straight in comparison!

  11. gina

    no way adam strauss, PAGE is gay as hell. xo

  12. adam strauss

    Gina–thank you for the kind words: I’m gggggglad I’m off-basis describing PAGE!

  13. Leeyanne Moore

    I’ve started swallowing my feet from envy at the inspiring fruits you garnered from this moveable feast of &Now. By the time I finish typing this I’ll have devoured myself and will be no more.

    Why, oh why, can’t &Now do their thing somewhere in the mid-atlantic coastal region where i can reach them….

  14. c.vance

    had no idea he had that out; need to get my hands on a copy. their collaborative performance was amazing— a highlight of the conference for me….

    and good to meet you as well!