ISSUE 1 VOL 1 PROFILE: Amber McMillan

poetry //
For the Sora Rail; Listen, Junebug; Renfrew Ontario, 1988 

HLR: Where do you write?

Most of the time I write at my home computer. This is often a real effort of compartmentalization, patience, and will as my six year old daughter has not stopped talking, seamlessly, since her fourth birthday and does so as near to me as she can, and always. Other times, usually on the bus to and from work, I might get lucky enough to think of a cool word or solve a writing problem, and jot it down somewhere, usually on the back of a receipt that I find in my pockets.

HLR: Where do you publish? 

I have, and continue to try and publish in small Canadian and American magazines and journals. I also have a collection of poems on the way with Wolsak and Wynn next year called We Can’t Ever Do This Again.

HLR: What are you reading these days? 

Right now I’m reading Marc di Saverio’s Sanatorium Songs after watching him read-sing his poem-songs across a bar in Toronto. I’ve also been reading Catullus’ From Bed to Bed, a collection of a hundred or so short and painful poems to his lover, and Robyn Dolittle’s Crazy Town, the story of Mayor Rob Ford, which has been a real gift of dark comedy. On regular rotation, though, is Michael Longley’s Collected Poems because they are probably the best poems anyone has written in the last hundred years.

HLR: Do you speak other languages? Does that affect your relationship to writing/reading/thinking in English? 

I don’t speak other languages, but once I needed to appear, at least on paper, as if I not only spoke French, but could understand French and even critically engage with French scholarly articles to earn a degree I was after. I enrolled in a course with others like me (frauds) called something like “French for English Majors.” It was a pass/fail course and all I needed to do was attend French class three hours a day, four days a week for six weeks and then translate a dense journal article from French to English in lieu of a final, and only, exam. I tried very, very hard to learn French. I attended all classes and practiced at home. When the phone rang, I would pick it up and plead to anyone calling to “please stop calling as I have to learn the entire language of French in six weeks.” When I passed the exam, I was profoundly stunned and grateful. The intensity of those feelings faded only slightly when I learned everyone else in the class had passed too. Since the exam, I have not spoken nor have I written or thought in French, because I can’t. I won’t tell you the name of the university I took this course at. 

The short answer is that in no way does my knowledge of other languages affect my relationship to writing/reading/thinking in English other than to remind me I have only English to get myself to whatever point I’ve aimed at. It sounds pitiful put this way, but I am so far convinced that this is a blessing in some important way; perhaps in the way that limiting resources and opportunities can create the necessary arenas to narrow one’s focus instead of to despair at the vastness of possibility.

Amber McMillan is a teacher and writer living in Toronto. Her poems have recently appeared in The Puritan, Forget Magazine and SubTerrain among others. Her debut collection of poetry is forthcoming with Wolsak and Wynn.