Monday, October 3, 2016

Monday Muse: 'Only More So' (Review)

Cover Art

I am the mirror for all who choose
not to speak. . . .
~ from "Portrait of a Girl, 1942"

In Millicent Borges Accardi's lyrical, beautifully written collection Only More So (Salmon, 2016), women, individually and collectively, serve the role of sharply observant witness, most often to the brokenness that asserts itself through horrific violence — brutal rape, murder, war, genocide — and finds expression in the language of the body abused. We read of "fat-coated" soldiers who "wanted the smooth golden of her neck, the warm nest of her skirt" while "pain counted the woman's / buttons as they easily slipped through the stitching / of her clothes" ("Only More So"); we shudder at "morning beaten from bodies" become

Tarsals, femurs, ulna, open-pored
bones like coral, spinal cord beads
on strings, legs bowed, dried marrow
dark as tunnels, joints like fists, teeth.
~ from "In Prague"

Acute apprehension becomes the body's guide to safety, directing it to "[d]ress / in shades of brown, / as if you could fold / up and turn back / into dirt if you / needed to",  [h]old / your breath / until the men have gone" ("How to Shake off the Policiade Seguranca Publica Circa 1970"), and make "the heart compact as plywood" ("Coupling") to shut out the hurt and sadness and regret.

Yet, to Accardi's great credit, she exercises a controlling hand that ensures her narrators never slip into bathos; despite betrayal, loss of innocence, theft of self-identity, they rise with determination to "survive by owning air" ("Only More So"):

Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia: the countries undulate
together while he dances the dance of the basilisk
thighs marching, marching.

Even little sounds, like birds overhead,
encourage him to go on, to spit, to breathe
three generations of her surrender into his lungs.

Then, silence.
Lost territories, rebels, food, clothing, shelter,
she thinks not of peace, but of surviving
the winter, of outlasting the enemy, of winning.
~ from "Ciscenje Prostora (Ethnic Cleansing)"

Women's plain-speaking voices — conveyed with a "this is what people do" perspective — give dramatic power to unsettling imagery, of "[men] ransacked like windows / [w]ith sledgehammers and hatred" ("The Night of Broken Glass"), where "death is a long rope / wrapped around kin I cannot have" ("In Prague"). Still, the capacity to imagine "wild / transformations out of bleak" ("Widow") provides space for emotional response founded on "the welcome // back into a comfortable time, . . .[t]he feeling of wholeness / lost and returned." ("Inventing the Present")

For all the looking back they do, back where "memory makes . . . legs move" ("In Prague"), for "each question [that] is a test . . . [a] reason not to" ("Honest Words") dream beyond what is their "Walmart lot in life" ("There Was a Part"), the women who witness in the pages of Only More So still want, still are capable of envisioning those "different conditions" under which life-giving connection is possible, whether with a brother who

. . . gathers up a cocoon of sleep
in his hands and tucks in my feet,
my ankles, my legs, my torso
and then zips it up tightly under my chin
almost as if he loved me.
~ from "Buying Sleep" 

or a father who speaks

. . . a language that joins us,
beyond our last name,
the space between our front teeth,
and wavy black hair.
Beyond linguica,
kale soup and sweet bread.
~ from "The Last Borges"

or a lover who can

. . . come to me
while whole. Come to me when I am
what is wanted. . . .
~ from "I'd Still Have Believed"

Readers will find much to praise in this cohesive collection of strong narrative poems, especially the noteworthy poems "Ciscenje Prostora", "Buying Sleep", "Portrait of a Girl, 1942", "The Night of Broken Glass", "This Is What People Do", and "In Prague". Acardi's are honest words, and with them she displays a profound understanding of women's inner strength and needs. The clarity she achieves makes her poetry highly readable, and her intuitive sense of sound and cadence, of knowing just when to break a line for effect, of crafting concluding lines that tend to reverberate in the mind offer evidence of her mastery of craft.

Accardi's Only More So is one of the most impressive and memorable collections I've read this year.


Portuguese-American, Millicent Borges Accardi is also the author of Injuring Eternity (World Nouveau Books, 2010) and Woman on a Shaky Bridge (Finishing Line Press, 2010), a chapbook. Her work, including nonfiction, has been published in the AWP Chronicle, New Letters, Seattle Review, Tampa Review, Wallace Stevens Journal, and many dozens of other literary periodicals and journals. Some anthologies that include her work are Even the Daybreak: 35 Years of Salmon Poetry (Salmon Poetry, December 2016), Writers of the Portuguese Diaspora in the United States and Canada: An Anthology (Boavista Press, 2015), and Sunrise from Blue Thunder (Lulu, 2011). Accardi's many awards include fellowships from California Arts Council, CantoMundo, Fulbright Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Yaddo.

Millicent Borges Accardi's Website

Millicent Borges Accardi on FaceBook

Salmon Poetry Author Page (You'll find here three poems read by Accardi.)

Of the many very fine poems in Only More So, a few are found in Accardi's chapbook Woman on a Shaky Bridge; others are in the anthologies Gavea-Brown Book of Portuguese American Poetry (Gavea-Brown Publications, 2012) and Writers of the Portuguese Diaspora in the United States and Canada.

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