Jasper Kerkau Interview with Millicent Borges Accardi

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[Jasper Kerkau] Many of our writers and readers are new writers. You are by any metric a highly accomplished writer, having received numerous fellowships, including the National Endowment for the Arts. What advice would you give young writers/poets about finding an audience and perfecting their craft?

[Millicent Borges Accardi] It’s hard to give generic, one size fits all advice since most writers starting out have different strengths, but I would say across the board, two issues that seem to befall people just starting out: 1) they don’t read enough (like carpenters who want to make furniture but have never apprenticed or learned how tables are built), and 2) they have trouble finishing projects. Every new idea is like a brilliant butterfly that catches their eye and turns their head. One day they are super into the movies of Polanski, so they buy a new camera and software for film editing and sign up for screenwriting classes and all they can talk about it pitching their idea. Then, a few days later, they read a poem and suddenly want to be the next Keats. While it is good to explore, on a shallow level, to discover where your passion lies, there is also something to be said for Just, Finishing. Something.

So my advice would be to explore in your reading, read everything from botany textbooks to found poems to SciFi to Shakespeare, but once you find a project, even a mini-writing project, finish it. Even if you get bored. Even if it becomes irrelevant. Just finish it.

Everyone has interesting stories and a point of view, but not as many have the patience and tenacity to finish a manuscript. To follow one idea through to completion.

[Jasper Kerkau]I had this moment, which I speak of often, where I decided that I would begin to identify myself as a writer. For myself, it was a spontaneous event, can you speak to your experience finding your voice and deciding that you were a writer?

[Millicent Borges Arcardi]I cannot say I ever had an ah-ha moment where I was like wow. This IS IT. There was a time when I was a kid and stayed home sick in bed, for over a month, with pneumonia and I was convinced I would write the Great American sequel to Little Women. There were the notebooks and ribbon and pens and I settled them down around me like pillows.
When I got the call from Cliff Becker from the NEA, that was a seminal moment. At the time I was working with a group of IT programmers who knew nothing about my creative interests. I was doing a project where I worked as a Q/A person for a new software package, testing programs all day, running tests, simulations and recording bugs and errors. The call came in, “This is Cliff Becker” and I screamed and started to cry before he even got the rest of the sentence out. I think I ran down the hall and it was not long after that, thanks to the fellowship that I was able to take a year and a half off to write full time, and, since then, I’ve mostly managed to “buy time” to write, whether it is writing in the morning before a day job or taking a couple of months “off” for a residency, I treat time to create as a priority. Also, it helps I can write anywhere. As a kid, I was an only child so I rapidly learned how to focus even amid a party or when I was at work with my dad. Even now, if I am stuck at the airport, I sit down on the floor and start working on a project. The rest of the world fades away.

[Jasper Kerkau] One of the remarkable things about your poetry is the variety of places from which it springs. Your work seems to float between Americana to “the corner of Jilska and Mickalska” and every place in between. Do you feel your diverse background has made you a better writer?

[Millicent Borges Accardi] At a certain point in my life, there are filters, in which I look through to see the world and unless I expand these filters and explore other ways of doing and seeing things, through connections, reading. being in communities different than my own, as well as exploring my own community and communities in new ways, unless I swap up and change out these filters, a creative life and, also, compassion is lost. Filters have a way of ingraining and making life smaller, whereas witnessing and new experiences, new ways to say yes and to see through new eyes, these are avenues to expand existing filters and to take on new ones There is also a value to staying in one’s own lane and exploring in depth your own background and your own unique ethnicity and gender and age and way of being.

If you shut yourself down as a writer, you’re stuck. The wooden shutters are up and the storm windows beneath are solid. People say write what you know, but writing what you don’t know but want to understand it also a valid avenue. Being a better writer, for me, means paying attention to my own biases and listening, being open to conversations and differences and similarities. Being a better writer means witnessing and being able to take note of what is important.
Like the poem mentioned above, “the corner of Jilska and Mickalska” was an incident I viewed from the window outside the place I was staying in Prague. The city had been opened up for a large plumbing project and all traffic had been stopped at that one corner when, in the midst of installing sewer pipes, bones from old graves had been discovered. Archaeologists had been brought in and the area was classified as an official “dig.” All municipal work ceased and the priority was shifted to discovery and discovery.

One of the works that I had the strongest connections with was “This is What People Do.” I found it to be a stunning poem, in which I read some Beat influence. Can you expound on the work, perhaps giving some insight into the genesis of the piece?

Again, this was me staring out a window, this time it was in Venice Beach, where I lived for 12 years, in a white art deco rent-controlled building, that I shared with other like-minded artists, writers and actors. For a time, a friend of mine was the manager and the apartments felt more like a dorm than a building– my neighbor was Pegarty Long, a film-maker and twin sister of Philomene Long, the Queen of the Beats in Venice– she’d been a nun in the 1960’s and, when she left the convent, headed straight to Venice to hang with the poets and the surfers and neo-philosophers. She was Poet Laureate of Venice and married to beat poet John Thomas– whom she writes about in this poem

They are already ghosts
John and Philomene
As they pass
Along the Boardwalk
Where ghosts and poets overlap
As they pass, the gulls
Ghosting above their shadows
Everything’s haunting everything
Already ghosts
John and Philomene
Under the ghostly lampposts
Of Venice West
Their cadence
The breath of sleep
At rest
Lost at the edge of America
Already ghosts
And each poem
Already a farewell
Everything’s haunting everything
The sea is the ghost of the world
–Philomene Long

Through reading Philomene’s work and living in Venice, I guess I adopted the slang and the slants of the beat poets. “This is What People Do” is a collage between what I saw outside my window, the boardwalk, the street vendors below, the characters in the city and each two lines represent one aspect or one character of that one moment in time, as if they all existed, flat and round, together, sharing one nano-second of space-time.

 

Everyone has interesting stories and a point of view, but not as many have the patience and tenacity to finish a manuscript. To follow one idea through to completion.

[Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So is avaiable on Amazon. It is an amazing read, and sets the standards for so many of us trying to hone our craft. Please read my review of her book here.]

Jasper Kerkau’s Review of Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So

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Jasper Kerkau’s Review of Millicent Borges Accardi’s Only More So

    “I will never write another review,” at least that is what I told myself. It is a draining process, as I heap great responsibility on myself to navigate the words of the poet and give a proper context to their writing. More specifically, I only write about those noble souls who find their fiber of the universe to pull, as the mortals run in circles, procreating, feasting on the mundane, and seeking solace in profane, menial tasks. Millicent Borges Accardi contacted me after my interview with Melissa Studdard and the review of her stunning collection of poetry I Ate the Cosmos for Breakfast. I had no intention of writing another long-form review, amid the struggle of publishing our first two books and my work with the Sudden Denouement Literary Collective. I have received many requests for reviews (some of which I will get around to eventually) but I discovered something in the poetry of Accardi that called to me, spoke to me on a level that most poetry does not. In her work, I discovered the undeniable poetic truth that is a rarity. In Only More So (Salmon Poetry), Accardi opens her heart, not only displaying her succinct use of language to articulate her experience, but also, gifting the reader with glimpses of memory, and sentimentality that gives credence to the notion that poetry is not dead. Only More So dwells in that place where poets yearn for truth, casting words as spells in a world that has lost its belief in magic.

    I like any reader, bring my feelings and emotions to a collection such as Only More So. The poems exist in different realms. From the opening poem, “On a Theme by William Stafford,” a beautiful homage to Stafford’s “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” to “Buying Sleep” a poem in which Accardi reaches back into the crevasses of time to express a complex, soft memory, her work leaves me transfixed and yearning for more. “Buying Sleep” conjures my moment in the darkness, my own conflicted, sentimental moments, twisting in time, swirling in the dust of eternity:

        “Wanna buy some sleep?” In the darkness
        I nod and, then realizing years later
        Say, “Yes,” aloud and so he begins
        He gathers up a cocoon of sleep
        ……
        Almost as he loved me. (17)

Accardi’s writing moves from complex sentimentality, to “The Night of Broken Glass” and “In Prague,” distinct poems taking the reader to different locales, unique places, expressing something that is distinct and universal. Accardi’s “In Prague” beguiled me with her stinging, poetic truth:

        Take me where memory makes my legs move.
        Take me where moss holds language.
        Take me where we have a name for the things we do. (23)

It is here that I find common ground with Accardi, myself seeking the place where “moss holds language.” It is a concise moment of perfect poetic expression, the longing, the yearning, the desire to go where “stones are full…wrapped around kin I cannot have, wisdom for the hungry…” She tips her hand, showing herself to not only have a special dispensation to expression the language of the Gods, but also to be a seer, a poet of the highest order.

    Only More So is a revelatory collection of poems that are universal and deeply personal. Accardi takes us to strange places, takes on different voices, speaking to the reader softly, and then exploding with expression rooted in the human condition. From “This is What People Do,” a refulgent glimpse of normal life, to the quiet spirituality of “Faith,” I fell into Accardi’s orbit. It is a special place, a supernatural quilt where all can find their truth, their sadness, and yearning. This experience, digging into the heart of Accardi’s vision, is a validation for myself; it reminds me why I am on an endless quest to find the magic, to find the magicians, those who draw me into their web of enchantment, based on truth and words. Only More So is a must-read for anyone who shares my love of the special language only great poets speak.

Please read her bio at Wikipedia.

 Only More So is available on Amazon

http://www.MillicentBorgesAccardi.com

@TopangaHippie  on Twitter
[Jasper Kerkau is co-creator, writer, and editor for Sudden Denouement Literature Collective and Sudden Denouement Publishing.]