JACQUELINE LAPIDUS REVIEWS
THROUGH A GRAINY LANDSCAPE BY MILLICENT BORGES ACCARDI
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.
.........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:
.......................to 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”
trim like the body of a bottle,
a treasure promised to her from soap
and furniture polish commercials... (p8)
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 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)
......you 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)
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,
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. ♥
MICHAEL ESCOUBAS REVIEWS
UNDERGROUND RIVER OF WANT BY KATHLEEN GREGG
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.
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
“Heartbreak” uses powerful similes to underscore the depth
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
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
MICHAEL ESCOUBAS REVIEWS POEMS TO LIFT YOU UP
AND MAKE YOU SMILE, JAYNE JAUDON FERRER, ED.
100 poems compiled by J.J. Ferrer; published by Parson’s Porch Books,
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.
POEMS TO LIFT YOU UP
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,
. . . . . .
Be moderate in all things,
. . . . . .
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.
POEMS THAT MAKE YOU SMILE
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.