MA: ‘Jukebox Performance for a Camelia Tree’ is a playlist for a tree to perform in the dream world. It came from a dream I had about a tree in Carlton Gardens, which was playing ‘Modern Love’ by David Bowie from within its trunk. I sat with the tree for a few days, writing and taking bark rubbings. Then I put together a series of garage, psychedelic, and filmi music from across Asia in the 60s and 70s, for the tree to perform. I actually spend more time listening to music than I do reading or writing, so it actually felt like a true act of intimacy, something I would give to a lover or a friend.
The sense of ‘sublime’ I’ve been playing with stems from religious euphoria and devotion, the kind embodied by ancient poets like Lal Ded, a 14th century Kashmiri mystic and Akka Mahadevi, a 12th century saint who was a friend to flowers and animals. Both women were intoxicated by the love for Shiva and walked the earth clothed in nothing but their long hair. They were iconoclasts and poets, living life on their own terms, renouncing society for their own style of asceticism and eroticism, shrouded in supreme love and magic. What I love about their works and lives is that the lines between devotion and eroticism were blurred. This has led me to engage deeper with ideas of all-encompassing supreme love, devotion as eroticism, performative self-annihilation, renunciation and ecstasy, death and euphoria, the ascetic/hedonist dichotomy.
DSS: I see this performative self-annihilation appear in your work. The poems in Electric Lotus are so deeply spiritual. Yet, there’s almost no personal centre to them. In Anne Carson’s Decreation, she writes about art without a personal centre; a hole in the middle for the divine to enter. What is the divine in your work? And, maybe, what is the divine to you, as a person?
MA: I perform somewhere in between the dream realm and the waking realm. A lot of my work is automatic. I am giving material form to abstract thoughts that appear to me. This isn’t necessarily ‘divine’, but it’s a process that feels outside of me. My interactive manifesto for how to centre Love and Imagination for a New World Order, ISOSCELES-SHAPED VISIONS FOR THE RECONCILIATION OF WAVY ACTIVITY BETWEEN DREAM AND MIRROR REALMS, was entirely automatic.
Sometimes I find it hard to be grounded. The creative space can feel like an out-of-body experience where my personal centre dissolves. This is not to say that my writing is magical and appears out of nowhere – I work very, very hard to keep this state of creativity alive. I wake up very early to write. I write in a dream journal daily. I re-enact moments from dreams. I see these rituals as small acts of faith. I do not subscribe to any existing religion or doctrine. I am devoted to art and have made sacrifices to keep this flame, this love alive.
As for what the divine means to me, I think about the presence of all-consuming love and expansiveness that I have experienced in dreams. The divine that appears in the form of animals, particularly dolphins, orcas, goats and swans. The divine as hands in a temple giving me a sacred egg as I entered a new relationship. The divine as a blinking turquoise marble statue with the face of Betty Boop. The divine as the heartbeat of the river. The divine is creativity in all its forms.
DSS: The title of the second poem in Electric Lotus is the shape of a circle; it is not in language. There are shapes among words throughout the chapbook, and the poem titled ‘sublime!’ is the word ‘sublime’ arranged in a shape. It all culminates in this dream landscape. The chapbook is so experimental, would you still classify the poems in Electric Lotus as poems? Or is poetry the closest classification that resonates with you?
MA: I am not too bothered with the classification of my work. Labels are arbitrary. Whatever you think my work is, that is what it is. It does not belong to me, it belongs to you. It is a gift for you. I myself cannot define poetry. It is in the ambiguity where the magic lies.
With Electric Lotus I thought about how I could make the act of reading more interactive. All conscious life is performed. I thought perhaps this text could inspire small performed acts that would be joyful. I created instructional motifs and questionnaires for inspiring imaginative thought and play.
A circle is language. The beauty of the circle is that it can be understood globally by people who do not share the same tongue or live in the same time period. The circle poem in Electric Lotus is called ‘Sheela’, for Ma Anand Sheela, who occupied a fascinating blend of devotion, villainy and esotericism in popular culture in the 70s and 80s.