First Cut: Interview with Amy-Jean Muller

book3The third book in the First Cut Poetry series, Baptism by Fire, by the inimitable, exceptionally talented Amy-Jean Muller was released a little over two years ago.

I was lucky enough to have assisted Amy-Jean in editing Outcast Press Poetry magazine throughout 2022, but really I became enamoured with her work upon first reading Baptism back in January 2021.

Baptism by Fire is my ‘most returned-to’, most re-read book of all the books in the First Cut series (including my own – I’ve only read History of Present Complaint once, compared to the double-digits readings I have given and will continue to give Baptism), and this is for many reasons: I pull it from my shelf and dip into it whenever I need to feel brave, both in my day-to-day life and in my own writing; whenever I am feeling vulnerable and need to be reminded of my strength; whenever I feel rage at the whole world for the injustices inflicted on women; whenever I feel pain or sorrow about my own experiences of being objectified and mistreated; whenever I need to be reminded of what good poetry really is. It’s a book that I’ve described before as ‘triumphant’ and ‘a tour force,’ and still these descriptors don’t convey the power of it.

So, to celebrate two years of Baptism by Fire making its mark on the world, I had a chat with the frank, funny, formidable Amy-Jean about her debut poetry collection, about myths and womanhood, the books that accompany her through her literary life, and her future writing plans…

HLR: AJ, I’m so excited to learn more about Baptism by Fire! Tell us all about it.

71HsdpXvltLAJM: Thank you for taking the time to interview me for Treacle Heart. Baptism by Fire was published in 2021 and taps into symbolism from mythology and classical antiquity. The title alludes to a period of hardship that eventually leads to some form of emancipation, but once the reader participates in the story, the ‘fire’ becomes an integral part or drive towards liberation itself.

Themes such as religion, freedom, violence and celebration are explored as we reach the precipice of the narrative of one female protagonist’s journey. The view of the female experience is starkly juxtaposed to classicism, with cues to myth throughout the work. This is achieved via the nuances of language, imagery, and symbols rather than through classical form, and aims to reframe the subjugation of women and perpetuation of gender dynamics in relation to society today.

My interest in transformation is rooted in mythology. Ovid’s Metamorphoses details instances where women are physically transformed either by their predators to be silenced, or as a means to escape them. I wanted to utilise the concepts of nature in line with this ideology and reframe transformation as a means to unfetter the self and reclaim ownership of one’s body. By embracing the intrinsic parts of ourselves, we are able to deconstruct the primal aspect of the human co

ndition to inform our expression, liberation, rage, voice, and power.

HLR: I love that idea of unfettering the self, how the reclamation is a revolution that leads to freedom. Can you sum up the main themes in your collection in 10 words or less?

AJM: The raw female experience of rage to liberate and empower.

HLR: A perfect summary. What are your favourite poems in the collection, and why?

AJM: I have a special place in my heart for ‘Choked at birth’ as it is steeped in symbolism around the tree and how the act of handing relates to womanhood in mythology. The idea of stifling a voice before entering a world with an umbilical cord sets the tone for who the character is and the book overall.

‘Ceilings and floors’ emulates the fight and force of women against the system as a whole by juxtaposing and reframing how society is built upon patriarchal ideologies.

‘Punch’ takes things a little further by getting more personal where the speaker begins to recognise and reclaim ownership of her body which is what power and rage attempt to do in the collection.


Please strike the space on my neck with your balled up fist.
The curve where the skin meets my shoulder
so the place where you bite down
and breathe pathetically
looks more like a bruise and not a mark where your mouth
Pretended to be a Man.

© Amy-Jean Muller / Baptism by Fire / Close to the Bone (2021)

HLR: ‘Choked at birth’ is my favourite, too, one I’ll never forget because the opening line is so perfect, it haunts me in the best way. So what are your writing habits like?

AJM: For at least the first hour of my morning, I avoid technology and write long hand. This is more an exercise to splurge out the noise in my head before taking anything on in the day. Some days I’ll be in the zone to work on the book, other days I’ll work on illustration/art, others poetry, or if no words are coming, I’ll dive into research.

Lastly, in terms of writing, no matter the accolades, lack thereof, hopes, disappointments etc. it’s important to just be authentic.  Don’t take my advice. Don’t take anyone’s advice really, because the doing of other people’s ‘advice’ takes away from the writing and from you developing your own understanding of what it means to create. So basically, just write.

HLR: Tell us about 3 books: 1 book from your childhood, 1 you’re currently reading, and 1 you’re looking forward to reading.

AJM: Presently I am rereading Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. I dip into this regularly as I enjoy the nuggets of advice and encouragement in writing and creativity.

I’m excited to get stuck into All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and am interested in seeing how the work addresses the veracity of war from the position of youth versus what our assumption of war is.

Lastly, a book that is important to me from my childhood is Little Red Riding Hood. When I was three years old, I received the 1983 version which featured the hunter and saw the characters thrive in its conclusion. I was always drawn to the symbolism of colour, characters, and personal choice. When I was suddenly diagnosed with severe life-threatening viral encephalitis, I spent almost a year in hospital and Little Red Riding Hood became the sanctuary I needed to know having the strength to fight would inevitably lead me home.

Screenshot 2023-03-28 at 20.30.38

HLR: That’s beautiful, about Little Red Riding Hood giving you that strength. I also dip into Letters to a Young Poet a lot, it’s such an important little book. What’s one poem that you wish you’d written?

AJM: ‘The Ballad of the Lonely Masturbator’ by Anne Sexton, ‘Fricatives,’ By Eric Yip, ‘A Son First, Then A Daughter’ by HLR. I am excited to read the final edit of EX-CETERA and it’s been a pleasure to see the poems develop into an incredible piece of work I know people are really going to get excited about. I’m privileged to be able to watch the transformation and read it again.

HLR: You’re so kind to mention one of my poems from EX-CETERA, thank you. And one of my personal favourite-ever-poetry-moments was hearing Eric Yip read ‘Fricatives’ at last year’s National Poetry Competition awards night; it’s a remarkable poem, and Eric is a truly worthy winner. So, what’s next for Amy-Jean Muller? What are your creative plans looking like right now?

AJM: At the moment, I’m working on some art and creative projects, my novel, and a second poetry collection.  The second collection merges prosery and poetry and follows three distinct journeys. These poems are a collection of experiences, inner commentary, modern propaganda, and patriarchal expectations limiting woman to heteronormative ideals within society. Much like Baptism by Fire, my art, and creative work, the collection utilises research into mythology and anthropology where I endeavour to shift the meaning and allow the participant to enter the space. My work looks at identity as a core focus in relation to the ways in which we identify ourselves and the way in which we perceive identity.

HLR: Well, I’m beyond excited to read whatever you write next, and I’m sure plenty of others are too. AJ, thank you for this interview!

About the Poet

IMG_3289 4

Amy-Jean Muller is an artist, writer and poet from South Africa who lives and works in London. Both her art and writing explore culture, memory, mental health, femininity, and sexuality in relation to the right and ownership of one’s body and identity. She has exhibited her art in South Africa and London and her writing can be found in various publications online and in print. She is an editor, creative, and former Poetry EIC for Outcast Press and contributor for Versification and The Daily Drunk.

Her poetry book, Baptism by Fire, was released in January 2021 through Close to the Bone publishing. The work reads as a collection of visceral experiences through one female protagonist where we encounter the destructive realities of the world attempting to undermine and manipulate her and her body. It is a passionate pursuit of authenticity through the liberation of power. The collection is beautifully introduced by Stoya, Pornographer and author of Philosophy, Pussycats, & Porn. She also had the opportunity to discuss the work with Erika Lust, feminist, activist, and award-winning filmmaker creating sex-positive, indie adult cinema, who interviewed her around the feminist perspective of rage, mythology, body ownership, and liberation.

Amy-Jean is currently involved in a number of creative projects and is completing her first novel and a second poetry collection.

Follow Amy-Jean on Twitter: @muller_aj
Follow HLR on Twitter: @HLRwriter

1 Comment

Tell me what you think!

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s