Thursday, June 9, 2022

CSPS Poetry Letter No. 2 of 2022, Reviews of books by Borges Accardi, Gregg and Ferrer


The first part of the second  CSPS Poetry Letter of 2022 included monthly contest winners and a featured poet Frederick Livingston.  You can read it here: 

Below are reviews of books by Millicent Borges Accardi and Kathleen Gregg, and an anthology edited by J.J. Ferrer. 



Through a Grainy Landscape, Millicent Borges Accardi, 85 pp. 

(New Meridian 2021), ISBN 9781737249108

Born here, nurtured by immigrants. Two languages in utero, one hard and hostile, one sibilant like seawater lapping at the shore. “Longing is the middle ground, when you have/ distant connections...” writes Millicent Borges Accardi, an award-winning poet from southern California. Through a Grainy Landscape, her new collection inspired by Portuguese and Portuguese-American writers, affirms multicultural sensibilities that resonate for a wide range of readers.

 From blurred photos and memory fragments, Borges Accardi recreates bewildering, intimidating experiences: grandparents and parents laboring on alien turf; children trying to parse adult conversation; girls encountering the same perils as in past centuries. All lost, stifled, betrayed. As Katherine Vaz writes in her Introduction, “everything is uprooted, from history to the rules for marriage.”

 By not identifying the speakers of all poems--conflating other lives with hers—this poet makes us feel their perceptions directly. Foreign words from early childhood cue current emotions:


.........oppressive family histories

that shape and shame

and disgrace. Whether it happens

In childhood or later, the sting

of the blur of the bite

of the belt or the tongue,

the trace of it always

swells into an unmanageablesorrow.............

Saudade, the universe has moved

On and given up its brightness...

(“The Most Vertical of Words” p5)


Portuguese was one of the seven deadly

jubilations, kept close at hand,

away from, the morcela made in hiding

as meu pai loaded the black blood

Into the transparent casements we kept

inside the house...

                (“The Architecture we were Born in” p. 28) 

Even a single mistake—“casements” (window frames) instead of “casings” (membranes used to make sausages)—can evoke how both children and parents struggle with language.  English tenses, so hard to learn, echo painful histories—hers, theirs, ours: push away

And start over bore, born/borne

As if invisibility  could be

Run away from, a new start

in the garage of an uncle...


...away from beat and being beaten

down, the promised land was

to become, became, begin,

a location that pushed away

and helped folks to start over,

pretending you were someone

else to fight, fought, fought.

To flee, fled...

(“It was my Mother who Taught me to Fear” p. 9)

 Capital letters out of place, as her elders misread them, call attention to significant images:


 “Woman in a YelloX Dress”


.........polyester sheath,

trim like the body of a bottle,

a treasure promised to her from soap

and furniture polish commercials... (p8)


Typographical inconsistencies, like the placement of commas, generate physical unease, irregular breathing or motion sickness--a boat on rough seas, railroad cars rattling, running on city streets.  Men drowned fishing, exhausted in fields and orchards, bruised in factories. Women assaulted.

Particularly for women, then as now, certain words imply more than they say:


............a mere child, a poor thing, a lesser

Than to be silenced and chit-chitted away


Is the female of the species only a vision

To want,

To attract, a steadfast of do or don’t

A lifetime based on one I do?

A have and a have-not no matter what?

(“You Swung Round” p42)

 Disappointments, like old habits or clothes, get handed down to the next generation: swore it would not happen and, yet, it did

any way. You became the great

Aunt you made fun of, who took out her false teeth at dinner,

who made you cry when you had

leg braces. The woman who was hit

In the head with a hammer by her first

husband,and, yet, before that? Your

grandfather said, no one could laugh

like Anna did.

(“You’ll be Little More than This” p46)


............ When they

frayed, the elbows werre mended,

and torn pockets were reconnected

with thick carpet-makers’ thread.

When the sleeves were too worn

to restore, they were scissored off...


The buttons were pulled off by hand,

for storage in an old cookie tin,

the cloth cut into small usable pieces

for mending, for doll clothes, for

whatever was left over. The rest, torn

into jagged rags for cleaning....

(“The Graphics of Home” p47)

 Hard work, supposedly a ladder to “upward mobility,” humiliates and takes us nowhere:


No matter what she wears, customers

find her in the aisle or near the side-work

station and ask for extra ice or “where

is the dry wall?” People yell, Miss or You

or even Over here when they see her turn

their way, as if she were always on duty.

(“Counting Hammers at Sears” p. 59)

America” is a false promise, not the leisure or luxury dangled before us in movies and magazines.  With a parent’s death,


the past

slams into the present, in new ways

that the future has yet to consider

or digest. Grief is like that,

it’s shrapnel under the skin working

a way out.

(“Your Native Landscape” p. 64)


Even if you can’t go home, now you can go back—but, what for?  As middle age hits, the poet’s perspective shifts again:


There was a border

and a finish line and the path

you were on has been rolled up

like a carpet in storage...

(“Winter Arrives in Mourning Unaccompanied” p. 72)


    The things we used to do willingly, the things

    We were talked into as a right of form

    Or passage now slip off our fingers like rings

    In cold weather, gold rings slipping off

    Fingers and disappearing into the frozen

    like escaping through an open window.

(“Still not Ilha Enough” p. 82)


At the end, the title poem looks ahead with terrifying clarity: Nothing considered normal may ever be possible again:


And then there are the waiters,

not food service but those who are patient,

for diagnosis, for tests, for death.

The mid-line boundary between someone 

saying everything is gonna be

OK and everything is over.

 (“I’ve Driven all Night through a Grainy Landscape” p. 85)


Borges Accardi gratefully acknowledges the influences behind these poems and the people who helped them travel.  Even writing in isolation, none of us, especially in a commodified and fragmented society, can reach potential readers entirely by ourselves.  ♥



21 Poems, 27 Pages, Leah Huete de Maines, ISBN 978-1-64662-599-4

I have always marveled at how seeming randomness returns later to infuse life with meaning. Case in point: Kathleen Gregg’s lead poem recalls how she felt on a fateful day when paramedics strapped her dad onto a stretcher for transport to the hospital. The distraught family holding fast to each other, as the radio blares, I wanna hold your hand.

 The collection: Underground River of Want.  The poem, “January 1964.”

 Not long thereafter . . .


A cold tug of alarm shivers

through my body. My sister gathers me in.

Unasked questions are swallowed, churn


in my stomach for one terrible week. Until,

the dreaded call from mom; a bedside

summons that wrenches


the two of us from sleep.


This excerpt from “January 1964,” which channels the Beatles classic, sets the stage for a thin volume of poems which is thicker than blood with emotional depth.

One of the purposes of art is to serve as a “rudder” during tough times. When seas are rough the goal is not to capsize the boat. Underground River of Want, is ample proof. I sense that Kathleen Gregg understands this. Without poetry the ship of her life founders.

“Loss” is a key theme for Gregg. Through a series of losses the poet invites us into the surging sea of her father’s death, sexual trysts, and her failed marriage. These amputations become the source of growth within her suffering.

I am moved by the poem, “Father-less.” Without her father to tell her “No” she is in want of an emotional compass when a boy’s eyes say, “I will touch you.” This poem is of central importance. The collection’s title finds its meaning here. Still in mourning, the next several poems explore the emotional vacuum left by her father’s loss.

It is important to note that poetic form plays an important role here. The poems early-on feature gaps in word-spacing and erratic indentations. This is purposeful writing. Gregg’s use of form represents how she is feeling . . . she is showing a disjointed life. Her pain is expressed through poetic form as shown in this excerpt from “Heartbreak is a Winter Wind”:

it blows like the downward lash

of a whip on bare flesh

deep sting

    lacerating hope


“Heartbreak” uses powerful similes to underscore the depth of heartache:

it blows like the fat flat of a palm

shoving you backwards


it blows like the stiff straw

of a broom.


The dust of love is swept away.

With an adult daughter of my own, I too, know what it means when someone you love has lost the North Star that she needs.

The first 12 poems set the stage for a subtle shift in the poet’s fortunes. The remaining 9 poems gently raise the curtain on light. The venetian blinds are opened with a slight pull of a cord. The turn occurs in the poem, “Sometimes Freedom Is a ’93 Dodge Shadow:

Boxy, khaki green, low-end model

fully equipped

with rolldown windows,

with one of its keys permanently stuck

in the ignition,

and with two years left on the loan.

I call it my consolation prize

for losing at marriage.

But damn, that Dodge is everything

My ex-husband is not.

I wanted to jump up with a “High Five”! At this point, there is a change in both tone and form. By tone, the feel of winter’s unrelenting chill is replaced by hints of lightness, tinges of hope. By form, erratic word and line-spacing is replaced by coherent, steady stanzas and couplets. Form is steady because the poet is steady. Life is different now.

There is one good reason for the changes described above. However, if I reveal it, I wouldn’t be doing my job as a reviewer. The best I can do is this quote by Willa Cather (1873-1947), “You must find your own quiet center of life and write from that to the world. In short, you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up.”

This is what poets do. This is what Kathleen Gregg does.


Michael Escoubas, first published in Quill and Parchment



100 poems compiled by J.J. Ferrer; published by Parson’s Porch Books,

 ISBN 978-1-955581-09-7

In an age of Covid-19, Poems to Lift You Up and Make You Smile, takes on special significance. This anthology is needed now, as never before. However, before sinking too deeply into the pandemic season to justify the worth of poetry, it is im-portant to remember that there has always been something that, as a people, we want and need to put behind us. The collective calling of poets in any age, is to tell the truth, sometimes with a bit of an edge, but always, in this writer’s mind, with a view toward finding the best in people and illuminating the path to hope.

This has been Jayne Jaudon Ferrer’s enduring passion for the last 11 years as editor of Your Daily Poem. YDP is a valued destination for some of the best- known poets in the country. Yet, Jayne is known for her welcoming spirt to new poets as well. She has a sharp eye for poets on-the-rise and gives many their first significant exposure. Moreover, Jayne’s single-minded goal has been “to share the pleasures of poetry with those who may not have had the opportunity to develop an appreciation for that genre.”

All of this is reflected in Poems and therein lies its appeal. The careful selection of 100 poems, chosen from an archive just shy of 4,000 poems, does exactly what the title says.

As one might expect, the work is comprised of two divisions: Poems to Lift You Up and Poems to Make You Smile.


Kevin Arnold’s “One True Song,” reminds me that, in a world that values big achievements, it may be the simple things that count the most:

Our simple acts may be the warp and weft

Of the substance of our lives, what is left


Beyond the gifts and wills, the trusts and estates

After our belles lettres or plein air landscapes

What if our day-to-day actions, in the long slog

Of life are our lasting legacy, our true song?


Arnold’s deft use of couplet rhyme and understated style draws me in, lifts me up.

“Life Lines,” by Randy Cadenhead, contains much of the sage advice I grew up hearing, these excerpts draw back the curtain on the kind of person this reviewer is striving to become:

          Walk where you have never been

and wonder at the beauty of the world.

 . . . . . .

Be moderate in all things,

except goodness.

. . . . . .

Be moderate in all things,

except goodness.

. . . . . .

Listen to the music

you can find in silence.

 What strikes me as important about this anthology is the role poetry can play in our everyday lives. The above noted poem, and so many others, remind us that we are neighbors, that we share common challenges, that we are united in our suffer-ings and in our joys.

 Phyllis Beckman’s “I Am, for the Time, Being,” illustrates the point:

 This morning I was musing when

This feeling came along

Reminding me I’m comfy, that

I feel like I belong.

So glad I’m not so worried

About what’s next to be

That I miss the present “now”

That life has offered me


When all these special moments

Are noticed one by one

The richness of just living

Can bubble up in fun


So thank you to the giver

Who urges me to take

My time, though it is fleeing,

A mindful life to make!


I am, for the time, being.

Beckman’s judicious use of commas made me slow down, caused me to think carefully about the poem’s underlying meaning. It’s what good poets do.



I was already smiling as I reached Poems’ transitional mid-point! There’s just something about being “lifted” that feels good.

Let’s lead-off with a poem about America’s pastime, Carol Amato’s “Baseball in Connecticut.” This well-crafted visual poem is about a player at the plate wielding a bat that “was never kid-sized.” This is a can’t miss delight with an unusual ending.

Michael Estabrook’s poem “Laughter,” is for anyone who, in their twilight years, doesn’t want to be a bother to their children:

My mother called today

wants to pay for her funeral

in advance “so you boys don’t have

to worry about it.”

But I’m not sure how

one does that, who do you pay

after all she may live

another 15 years so I say

just write me a check you can trust me

$20,000 ought to cover it.

Been a long time

Since I’ve heard her laugh so hard.

Estabrook’s conciseness, clarity, and studied restraint is a good example of a poet picking up on how funny life can be. I’m certain there was a measure of serious-ness that prompted Michael’s mother to phone him with her heart’s concern; but it is poetry that elevates tender moments to the level of art.

This collection is sheer delight; bringing out the best in people and in life, illuminating the path of love and hope.

As a side note, Poems to Lift You Up and Make You Smile, is not a money-maker for the editor. A significant portion of sales revenue is earmarked for Parson’s Porch, a food, ministry program that provides bread and milk on a weekly basis for those in need. Sometimes a lift and a smile is all a person needs to make life worth living. Yes, yes indeed.

Photo: Maja Trochimczyk, A Garden Path with Roses


No comments:

Post a Comment