Friday, May 5, 2023

Sacha Archer : These words are for Catherine Vidler





These words are for Catherine Vidler. And so they fall short. I should not be the one who writes them, but then none of us are equipped. Sparse correspondence, but then we never collaborated. Not exactly. We spoke of drinking and exhaustion and the hole where energy once was. And we spoke of our work. Our communications were never lengthy, more of a checking in. I have the sense that while she enjoyed the back and forth, she was always ready to retreat, as if to give anything more than she did would be a burden to the recipient. Or maybe I have it all wrong. Maybe she just wanted to get back to work! Catherine wrote to me of her depression and her anxiety. One thing we shared beyond poetry was Valium. But that was after her diagnosis of malignant melanoma. She began to have nightmares. But she still was at her work. She thrived in her work. Her endless variations and cautious iterations. But then they also burst. And then they overflowed! A revealing quote from Catherine’s diary appears on the Cordite Books website in the introduction to her book, Wings, “a single brick in the wall of my college room contained more than enough poems to last me a lifetime … it contained infinite potential poems!”  This is an incredibly visceral image for me. The intensity of the stare endlessly unfolding the world from something as innocuous as a brick. The noise of possibility, an ever-building feedback.

I know so little about her life and I believe few of us in this nebulous and disconnected community of writers and visual / poets do. This distance of knowledge in our luxury of clickable contact, despite the opulent new world of constant connection and in/visibility, is, unfortunately the norm. Or is it necessary? We talk with our work. The conversation. The pros and cons of visual poetries, at least. Which highlights the dire importance of reaching out, of giving a shit, of making the effort. Despite our distances, Catherine and I managed to connect, to offer encouragement and support (in both directions). We dealt in ideas, mainly. No, that is absolutely incorrect. Our conversations revolved equally around the difficulties of navigating fatigue and hopelessness, which is to say, the motive to create that’s only fuel is the urge itself. The urge has its limits. Though, certainly, with Catherine, you wouldn’t know it. Her work teemed from her. I do know that, as a job, she summarized court judgements and that she worked from home. A poet’s source of income is always fascinating. Sentences and the lack thereof. To make brief and concise. To pare down. Her job or her work? But then also to build from. We discussed sound and found our ideas for projects on the cusp aligning uncannily. The results of that conversation are,

Catherine’s Sound Sonnets:
and my own An Alphbet:

As reserved as Catherine was in her communications the same cannot be said of her visual poetry—and she influenced. Myself, without a doubt. And how many others? Kyle Flemmer acknowledges her direct influence on his exploration of the visual sonnet. Catherine’s proclivity toward the lost. Her multiple series of Lost Sonnets, and later, her Lost Matchstick Sonnets. We can only speculate on why she chose to title them as such. When work is presented as lost, The Lost Manuscript/Letters/Poems… it usually means, and now found and presented to you. The question now will never be answered. Are they lost to begin with, which, for most of our works is absolutely true? Are they lost because they do not know what they are or where they land, what they are? Are they titled lost because, in a sense, she carved them from the granite of language and its basic constituents of the line and the curve, because she uncovered them? It is an essential question that remains open.

published by Timglaset

Catherine was prolific, to say the least. Working in verse, constrained prose and visual poetics, as well editing the online literary magazine, Snorkel ( which ran 24 issues from 2006—2017, she was constantly working and publishing. I first encountered her work in a pamphlet published by Penteract Press. Her Table Poems, which excited me immensely with their inventiveness and singular vision.


From Table Poems

As her work continued to challenge and surprise me, I solicited work from Catherine for a chapbook through Simulacrum Press, which was the beginning of our friendship. She sent me a slew of gorgeous  work to choose from and I was honoured to be able to publish a few of her Repetitive Poems.

from Repetitive Poems   

Unfortunately, our correspondence lapsed for nearly two years during the pandemic and it was only very recently that I reached out and we began to write again. Not long after Catherine gave news of a seemingly successful surgery, I received an email from a friend of hers informing me that she has passed away from a stroke. It was April 29th. It was morning. She was 50.

Tom Jenks, with whom Catherine collaborated for the book pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs has been compiling links to her works:

Works by Catherine Vidler

Chaingrass –

Chaingrass (complete?):

Chaingrass Errata Slips:



Stamp Sonnets:

Born to Creep:

Lost Sonnets:

78 Composite Lost Sonnets:

Lost Sonnets – Third Iteration:

Furious Triangle:

pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs:


Oleander 7:

Repetitive Poems:

Matchstick Poems:

Sacha Archer is a Canadian writer and concrete poet. His most recent publication is cellsea, published by Timglaset. Some of Archer’s other publications include Empty Building (Penteract Press), Mother’s Milk (Timglaset), which was included on CBC’s best poetry books of 2020 list, KIM (knife|fork|book), Hydes (nOIR:Z), as well as a collaborative sound poetry album with nina jane drystek, Years Between Rooms. His book Havana Syndrome is forthcoming from The Blasted Tree. Find him on Facebook and Instagram @sachaarcher.

most popular posts