(SPAM Cuts) ‘9 Months’ by Tam Blaxter
In this SPAM Cut, Desmond Huthwaite examines the queer politics and poetics of temporality and its gendered reproductions through Tam Blaxter’s (she/her, they/them) poem ‘9 Months’, which you can read in the new Datableed here.
> Supposedly, there are 24 hours in a day, 12 months in a year and *Zizek voice* so on up to 1000 years in a millennium. In what exactly are there 9 months?? The obvious answer is pregnancy: 9 months, then, in human gestation, in child manufacture. Yet – unlike in the above tautologies where units of time refer back to nothing other than other cold, hard units of time – when time is made to inhabit the fledgling human body, the results are nowhere near as straightforward or predictable as the neatly inward-looped curves of the number 9 (which by this stage is starting to look a bit like a curled finger beckoning the poem coquettishly from above) would have us believe. Like treefungus, when the embryo splits itself it sometimes ‘grows 2 fast’; like the first letter of the first word of the poem, babies sometimes fail to show up on time. Even before we’re born, then, we have a queer relationship to time. The queerness of time and bodies is, I think, everywhere in Tam Blaxter’s poem.
> What can a poem do in/with/to/against 9 months? Reverse the subject-object positions of that question, and we seem to have an answer straight away: ‘xisting in the inbtweens exhausting yeh but/ also smthng like l i g h t n i n g /’. Being between – nonlife and life, orgasm and organism, nothingness and somethingness – is tiring. Happily for us, nobody remembers how exhausting their own biological formulation is. But epigenesis is just one of life’s many exhausting liminalities: we all know how much of a drag falling (the gerund is crucial: this poem is about process not state) in lust can be (and this poem is absolutely about lusting); some among us will also know how draining the process of rebirth (like first birth, often complete with new Christian name and passport) can be. Yet both procedures are also electrifying.
The fantasy of total reintegration into the body, hooked up to someone else’s brain via umbilical cord, is no less tantalising than is wanting intimate coexistence with another body, a different sort of hooking-up. But do we kno hw to tlk abt any of this? I’m reminded that every use of language is also a kind of reproduction (of ideas, affects, even selves), and when it comes to desire (especially what we desire with and for our own bodies), putting into words is never an easy birth. Desire is like a flash of l i g h t e n i n g (the staccato sort that lights up your bedroom but can’t actually be seen): the linguistic referent (thunder) comes a full 9 seconds after the fact, and even then only rumbling and indistinct. Anyone who’s ever waited while someone fumbls a pronoun will know how exasperating, how painful (like a mild electric shock), how dreadfully expectant 9 seconds can be (it’s not an overstatement to say that 9 seconds can feel like 9 months). When processes such as desiring or becoming are at stake, as short a timespan as 9 seconds, or as long a duration as 9 months, can do all sorts of things to the human body.
Whosoever accidentally kneed themselves in the nose as a child will know that bodies are treacherous. Bodies, especially desirous ones, don’t do as they’re told. And typically the first thing the body is told: “it’s a [insert a gender marker as arbitrary as the arrangement of 12 months in a year (soz astrologists)]!” For Judith Butler, this is a classic example of the performative utterance; a statement which makes bold on its claim to represent the natural and incontrovertible precisely by willing that natural and incontrovertible into being verbally. Language can birth all manner of bewilderment for the body, constricting around it like the waistband of a dress around a free-food-filled belly. But, through language, the body can also fight back with a few birthings of its own: the enunciation of benedicat (may he/she/they/it bless or praise) in the final line is able to explode that most anaemic of commonplace genderings by turning pink lips blue.
> Made to exist in the timeframe of heteronormativity which, Lee Edelman and others have argued, is structured by reproductive imperatives, trans bodies are apt to misbehave, as does the body of this poem. There isn’t space in a short review to do justice to Tam’s signature formal virtuosity. Suffice to say her syntax does to our sense of being a body in time what having a baby does to your morning routine. Words are shunted together and vowels squeezed out, precluding any possibility of a smooth reading. Misspellings and numericisations force us to question any attachments we might have to regularity of appearance; alternative organisations of the constituent elements of words do not hamper us from recognising words, they rather supplement the signifiers with some meanings and modalities of their own. Line breaks occur long after virgules (thanks btw to Tam, who is a terminological genius as well as a poet, for teaching me this word) and pauses within lines come in all shapes and sizes, shattering our sense of continuity and throwing us off our temporal balance as if our ears were blocked by a too-loud-for-comfort-free-wine-buzz. Thus, in its queer embodiment of a time period so uniquely associated with heteronormative self-promulgation, the poem is able to gest[icul]ate towards a life of its own – becoming a ‘flesh-song’ that far from ‘merely haunt[ing]’ registers with the viscerally physical thereness of a newborn baby’s scream.
Text: Desmond Huthwaite
Image: Oleg Magni