1. “Mother’s Milk” begins with a literal allusion to “The baby, borne on a river of blood”. What inspired the collection and in your process of creating and sequencing the images were you working towards or against meaning? How is this work different from your previous full-length titles “Detour” and “Zoning Cycle”?
We are all so voraciously starved for meaning that we find it, having placed it, in everything. We’re black holes, never full, always grasping, and as such whether I work towards or against meaning is, as I see it, a moot point. Giving myself up to that understanding, that knowledge that there is such a frightening hunger for meaning is pivotal to my work. I’m not concerned with meaning, but rather navigating energies that will, focused in a work, inevitably spill meaning. I am, however, concerned with the direction of that spill. Mother’s Milk is a direct response to the birth of my second daughter, Simone, but also psychic shiverings of family dynamics, the waves between us, the ungraspable and hyper-present. This alone would set Mother’s Milk apart from Detour and Zoning Cycle which are less personal and more conceptual. Of course, the fact that Mother’s Milk is concrete poetry is the most obvious difference between it and those works, Detour being akin to translation (if not actually translation) and Zoning Cycle being a score for a sound poem that is always being performed.
2. In “Detour” “Dao, in the context of the Dao De Jing…traditionally translated as the Way… has been sent on a detour through automatic internet translators.” What inspired this work?
I suppose at the time I was at a point where I was beginning to be fascinated with the plasticity of language in earnest. I had already been dabbling in concrete poetry and other experimental modes for some time, but Detour is a good marker of some palatable shift of heft that lacks a satisfying explanation except that something clicked. I was living in Tianjin, China when I wrote it and it is probable that I went there rather than somewhere else because of the literature and visual art of that country. Unsurprisingly I was engaged to a greater degree than I had been previously with classic (and contemporary) Chinese works while living in Tianjin, hence my direct engagement with the Dao De Jing, but it wasn’t only my being there. An increasing interest in John Cage who loved the Yi Jing and chance procedures, and a desire to tap into, or a process of tuning into a knowledge of how I work and how I create drew me to the idea of the Dao (though how conscious I was of it then, how can I know?).
3. What was the process of “Zoning Cycle?” What inspired this work?
The god of geography. I haven’t the faintest clue where this work came from, really. Just to spin a yarn I could say that I wrote a book in which there was a map and that map led to looking at other maps and the maps themselves suggested the poem/score because I simply wanted to create a work that had a lot of beautiful maps. So, I wrote a poem/score which was a collection of 365 maps each with a small red circle indicating a specific location on the map. It was essentially the same idea as Zoning Cycle but entirely visual. But what made that initial visual version so interesting was that some of the maps were of imagined locations, or were ancient and simply wrong, so that at times the locations I indicated didn’t exist except on those maps and in the imagination. Ultimately, I realized that it would be near impossible to get the work published and so came at it from the informational angle which became the version that I published through Simulacrum Press.
4. Can you recall an experience where you might have worked with another writer or maybe you collaborated with a visual artist, or a performing artist (say a musician/actor/dancer) – how was that experience different or similar? Or seminal or generative?
Collaboration has always been very difficult for me, though it has always attracted me and I’ve come back to it periodically through the years. Being very particular about all aspects of my work I find it challenging, to say the least, to give up aspects of control and open myself to another’s vision of something which I already have a total vision of. Nonetheless, however painful the process might be (and it can be very painful,) it evidently offers something of significant value as I continue to return to it, albeit, rarely. nina jane drystek and I just completed a collaborative sound poetry album titled Years Between Rooms. This was a particularly challenging experience because all communication was conducted via correspondence, nina in Ottawa and me in Burlington. I admit that I struggled with compromise and also the vagueness of emails and miscommunications, but in the end, I feel that the experience was enlightening and enriching and I’m thankful for how patient nina was with me—and I hope she feels that the experience was equally rich for her. Anyway, the result was a great album and that’s what we were aiming for, so.
5. How do you know as a writer if a piece of work that you have been labouring on, is finally completed?
The stress in the question on labouring is interesting. I have no innate respect for labour, though I see its value, don’t get me wrong. But, to give ourselves to this widely accepted notion that duration of labour and pain of completion are the markers of good work is absurd. What matters is that the work is good, not how it was made good, though of course, that can be interesting also. Really it just speaks to our love and desire for narrative and, as I mentioned before, our need to pump everything full with meaning. But how do I know when a piece is completed? That’s hard to say because I so often fuck up a piece that is ringing with harmony and I’m just a little too dull to hear it. But that’s essentially it. There is a balance and a vibration that is met when a piece really works. It’s like you’re running towards the edge of a cliff and sometimes you manage to stop just in the nick of time and sometimes you run straight off. Sometimes you get scared and you stop far too early, and it works, it has a balance but there’s so much farther to go and you can’t get there, the fear has infected it and that’s it.
6. Does your writing practice impact your emotional state in any way? Does it put you in a certain mood or an emotional state? Or helps you get away from a certain mood or an emotional state? Can you reflect on that?
Writing is shit therapy. In my experience. Maybe it helps some people deal with the problems in their life, past trauma, etc. and that’s great if it does, honestly, I think that’s wonderful—but, it’s never been a help to me except as an essential aspect of my being, and I wouldn’t call that therapy, but something closer to addiction, or more optimistically and from a different angle it has been integrated into the fabric of my identity for better or worse (probably worse). Yes, it affects my emotional state because it is never absent, always in tandem with the events of my life. It isn’t a question of priorities and compartmentalization, it is writing always, thoughts about what I am writing, the actual writing, things getting in the way of writing, etc. It’s all or nothing as I see it, you’re either all in or you’re wasting the reader’s time (that most important medium).
7. What is your definition of a successful piece of writing? Who decides that?
EUREKA! Did I say that? Eureka what? Don’t ask THAT question! Then you fold back on yourself and that doesn’t stop as easily as it began. But, of course, it did begin.
8. Are you conscious of developing a distinctive voice or a narrative style through your work?
Yes and yes. Though, the closer I get to some definable voice that is Sacha the farther I’d like to get from it. Sadly, I seem to be cementing into something that is recognizable and I fear what that means for my work. On one hand, I will likely make stronger, more focused work, while on the other hand, I wonder how much I’ll miss in that tunnel vision. As to narrative, because the vast majority of my work is concrete poetry narrative is often only vaguely suggested and that is something I am consciously addressing and working on. I have found in much experimental work where there is claimed there is a narrative it is mainly in the writer’s mind and inaccessible to this reader, at least. But I desire narrative in concrete, and not just a fusion of the novel plot narrative with concrete which has certainly been done very successfully already. I don’t know what I mean by that exactly, which is why I am still working on it, searching and grasping at the idea of it. I recently completed a short manuscript titled Rubik’s Cube which I think successfully performs the kind of narrative that I am dreaming of. Through a series of minimal concrete poems, I attempt to narrate the engagement with that puzzle (the Rubik’s Cube) as a merging of the puzzle-cube-object and the emotional frustration and concentration (psychic textures) of twisting it in one’s hands with a conclusion that is either optimistically and humorously absurd or, depending on how you read it, illustrative of failure.
9. What is new in the world that you need to capture in your writing?
What is new? Social revolution? Plague? Environmental crisis? Technology? The cult of the new leaves me wanting. Edgy work? That sounds like bad work that’s insisting it’s good… because it’s new… and that’s cool. Yikes. We use the tools that are around us because they are familiar to us, though they are new tools we have adapted to them fast, be they internet translators, scanners, certain computer programs, AI, what have you. That’s natural and has nothing to do with needing to engage with the new, it is simply living in the world that we live in. Or we don’t engage those new tools. Either way, for all the many innovations and startlingly fresh angles of perspective of our time it is the same psychic terrain as when we lived in caves and frankly, we haven’t come very far. It is not what is new but what is.
Sacha Archer lives in Burlington, Ontario with his wife and two daughters. Recent publications include Mother’s Milk (Timglaset) which was listed by CBC as one of the best Canadian books of poetry of 2020, Hydes (nOIR:Z) and Jung Origami (Enneract Editions) as well as a collaborative sound poetry album with nina jane drystek, Years Between Rooms. His work has recently been included in the anthologies Mouth of a Lion (steel incisors, 2021) and Watch Your Head (Coach House Books, 2020). His book Empty Building is forthcoming from Penteract Press as well as the chapbooks Immortality (Viktlösheten) and KIM (knife fork book). Archer runs Simulacrum Press (simulacrumpress.ca). His concrete poetry has been exhibited internationally. Find him on Facebook and Instagram @sachaarcher, or on twitter @sachaarchermeat