An Interview with Jessica Lee McMillan

Jessica Lee McMillan writes poetry and essays. She has been published in several journals across Canada and the US. Her work explores architectures of perception and she is working on her first poetry collection along this theme. Jessica lives in New Westminster, BC on stolen and unsurrendered lands of the Coast Salish and Halkomelem-speaking Peoples, in particular, the QayQayt and Kwikwetlem First Nations.

Her poem Money Tree appears in Pinhole Poetry’s launch issue.

Would you like to tell us a little bit more about your poem? For instance, how or why you wrote it, or perhaps provide some extra context? 

I am interested in the inextricability of social and biological life and how our hearts can be paradoxically freed while moving outside of ourselves. Inspiration should also be credited to my new money tree greening one of my writing spots, previously barren to prevent my plant-eating dog from having a toxic salad.

Do you have a collection of poetry or even a single poem that acts as a touchstone or a lodestar? 

"Saltwater Taffy" (Blank Spaces, December 2021) differs from my usual style in its casual, humorous and narrative qualities. The origin story of saltwater taffy tells a personal story of grief, sobriety, parenthood. I call it an old friend. 

If you didn’t write poetry, how do you think you might access the same fulfillments that poetry offers in your life? 

I would probably be painting more without poetry.

What are you working on now? 

I am writing a poetry collection examining theoretical, personal and societal perspectives through etymological tangents on one word. It will be my first book.

How or where or with what does a poem begin? 

Depending on the day, if a poem comes to me, I surrender to those tenuous initial encounters with an object, image or phrase (as you know, they come at the most inconvenient times). On days a poem does not come, I write around an object, poetic form, song, movie, word, or prompt (the latter two have ongoing lists).

Are there other art forms that inspire or inform your poetry? 

Most often music. I am fascinated by where melodic grammar meets poetic syntax, especially in jazz.

How do you make space for poetry in your daily routine? 

When and where I can. I have a system of notebook stations and use my smartphone when I am out. I try to carve out morning time but always make time in the evening. Once or twice a week, I do not get enough sleep. If I am tired, I focus on notes/editing/brainstorming/free-writing. With family and work, I have somehow protected this habit enough that it is difficult for me not to write every day. It is a necessary outlet but I do not let myself feel obligated.

Do you belong to a writer’s group? If not, where do you find poetry community and feedback? 

I am a member of The Royal City Literary Arts Society, which hosts readings and workshops and I attend other readings and workshops frequently. I also took a poetry course late 2021 with Kevin Spenst that was profoundly enriching. I aim to enroll in The Writer's Studio through my alma mater, SFU. I am thankful for how connected I have been during the pandemic.

In terms of poetic style or craft, is there a big question you are trying to find an answer for?

I recently heard Randy Lundy describe the potential of metaphor as revealing an ontological reality— particularly in kinship with nature— rather than a literary device bridging disparate entities. It feels similar to the Imagist aim to reveal truth in objects but with a bigger lesson on how we fit in the world. Lundy's take on the metaphor feels like an answer to a lot of my feelings of separateness when experiencing awe. From the perspective of craft, it repurposes metapor as a way to situate self in writing. As a recovering academic, I am seeking this kind of grounded honesty in my use of metaphor.

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