Weaving Writers Together:
Millicent Borges Acardi & ire'ne lara silva

Millicent Borges Accardi, a Portuguese-American poet, is the author of three books: Injuring Eternity (World Nouveau), Woman on a Shaky Bridge (Finishing Line Press chapbook), and Only More So (forthcoming Salmon Press, Ireland 2012). She has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the arts (NEA), the California Arts Council, Barbara Deming Foundation, Canto Mundo, and Formby at the Special Collections Library at Texas Tech. Past artist residencies include Yaddo, Jentel, Vermont Studio, Fundación Valparaíso in Mojacar, Spain; Milkwood in Cesky Krumlov, CV and Disquiet in Lisbon, Portugal. She can be found online at For more, visit her blog: (
ire'ne lara silva lives in Austin, TX. Her work has appeared in various journals and anthologies, most recently in Acentos Review, Pilgrimage, and Yellow Medicine Review. She is the 2008 recipient of the Gloria Anzaldua Milagro Award, a Macondista, and a 2010 CantoMundo Inaugural Fellow. ire'ne is the author of two chapbooks: ani'mal and INDíGENA. Her first collection of poetry, fur ia, was published in October 2010 by Mouthfeel Press. fur ia received an Honorable Mention for the 2011 International Latino Book Award in Poetry. She recently revised a collection of short stories, The Ocean's Tongue, is writing a second collection of poetry, blood/sugar /canto and a novel, Naci, and is co-coordinating the Flor de Nopal Liter ar y Festival (Dec 1-3, 2011, Austin, TX). Visit her at and read more at (

Millicent Borges Accardi: We both have grief poems about mothers in our books. How do you think grief has affected your work?
ire'ne lara silva: I think it's affected everything about my work because it affected me so profoundly. More than any other experience in my life, grief opened me up, emptied me out, shook me, made me savage, rendered me purely un-self-conscious. Grief and the contemplation of grief is everywhere in my work. I think there's a misconception that grief fades and vanishes over time. In my experience and in all the conversations my work has sparked with readers, there always seems to be a shared understanding that grief changes form, changes expression, sometimes varies in intensity or occupies different emotions--but it never dies. I hope that ever-present awareness has made my poetry both more concentrated and more complex.

I'm curious about how you see your grief affecting your work? And also, something I found extremely interesting about your work was your decision to narrate more than a few of the poems from the point of view of your mother, grandmother, or others. What was it about their stories that compelled you to inhabit them in that way?
MBA: I like to inhabit characters instead of writing about them-if I can. When I am successful I do, I hope. Like the poet Fernando Pessoa who adopted personas: Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis, Bernardo Soares, Maria José and others. I like to wear different hats when I tell a story. It's funny to me when I read my poem "Buying Sleep" about a little boy who is awake in the middle of the night in the desert and his brother comforts him, many times people assign poets TO their poems so much so that audiences view all poems as autobiographical, which, for me, they aren't.

My life changed when I lost my grandmother and then it changed again when I lost my mother. Grief cannot not affect writing. My own work brought me comfort in grief, and it reconciled unresolved feelings while calming those times when I just wanted to pick up the phone and call my mother and was halfway through dialing when I realized she was not there.

For me, poetry provides a way of documenting moments. Of healing.

Desde que sinta a brisa fresca no meu cabelo
E ver o sol brilhar forte nas folhas
Não irei pedir por mais.
Que melhor coisa podia o destino dar-me?
Que a passagem sensual da vida em momentos
De ignorância como este?

As long as I feel the fresh breeze in my hair
And see the sun shining strong on the leaves,
I will not ask for more.
What better thing could destiny grant me?
Other than the sensual passing of life in moments
Of ignorance such as this one?
—Ricardo Reis (heteronym of Fernando Pessoa)
ils: That's gorgeous. And it's interesting to me that you've brought up the theme of time, especially about poetry being about 'documenting moments.' I approach time in almost the completely opposite way—I like to collapse time, to write about events in no—time and simultaneous time. Your (poetic) time though seems very definite to me—not just in terms of the book's sections (morning, day, evening)—but also in the way you use stillness and silence to isolate one moment from another or to emphasize the relationship between 'this' one moment and 'that' one moment. I love the title of your book, but it and the epigram ("As if you could kill time without injuring eternity."-Henry Thoreau), keep inspiring different readings of your collection. Sometimes I think you're saying all these poems are just 'killing-time' poems, sometimes I think it's about how ephemeral life is, and now the Reis excerpt has me thinking that it's only the 'ignorant' total immersion in the moment that is what you the poet consider to be "life" and "happiness."
MBA: You do play with time. In your poems, speeding it up and slowing it down; however, in many cases your poetry exists for me outside of time and space. It's its own world of reality where words are the driving force. Where words propel both emotion and meaning outside of narrative, outside of the left brain's logical spin on meaning: As in the heart-wrenching poem "Sound"

Grief like acid earth corrosive remembering flowed in
dark waters over me
dark rivers through me
left ragged my eyes my heart my voice my

Many of your poems have an authoritative, declarative voice (like Walt Whitman) as in "Pomegranate: poem for lost vision," This is a cleansing poem, a poem of leave-taking./A poem that will explain nothing even to those of you that were there." How important do you feel voice or poetic authority is with poems?
ils: I think it's everything. It might make me a very inwardly directed poet (narcissistic? self-absorbed?), but it's what poetry is to me. It's the bare bones truth—and for me, I can only tell that with 'my' voice and from 'my' own eyes. If my poetry is going to take risks, open me and hopefully the reader up to healing or to self-awareness, then that's the only way I can enter it.

I also write short stories and I'm currently working on a novel—that work in prose allows me much more room to explore themes or history or anything else from other points of view. Poetry is precious to me because in some ways it is much, much more demanding.
MBA: Like emotions, voice propels your work and it is the strong through-line that holds everything together. We are on this ride with you and holding on as you turn the car and throttle the gas pedal and yet we trust your voice, that the destination and the journey are worthwhile.

For me, the voice changes depending upon the narrator of the poem. The voice could be gentle and innocent or earnestly telling a story for historical purposes, because the truth needs to be documented. As in my own poem "Ciscenje Prostora" about ethnic cleansing:
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.
ils: In that piece, as well as others, especially "Please/Written in response to the 2010 Gulf Oil Spill" and "The Morning Brittany Murphy Died," I am taken by the compassion and the empathy that your voice is able to access. Your language is an encompassing embrace.
MBA: My dad used to call me an "emoter" or an "empathetic" since I seem to suck in others pain or joy or other emotions. I write like that too. Whatever affects me, I try to illustrate in my writing, whether it is for a cause or whether it is compassion for a situation, writing is a way of getting inside an emotion to understand it. On a practical note, if I am in a room with someone who is crying, I'm a gonner in two seconds and I start bawling too. There was so much emotion and meaningful life stories at Canto Mundo, it was impossible not to be deeply affected by the experience. I think all good writing is part psycho-therapy and part literature, even if you do not agree with the writer's or character's position, being open to reading about it, drastically changes you as a human being. Which is why literature and all the arts are so powerful.

Do you ever do research for your poetry? If so, could you give me an example or two of where research benefited your writing?
ils: I don't remember researching anything for the poetry I'd written up until the last few months. I'm currently writing a collection of poetry about diabetes-and there I find myself needing to do quite a bit of research-I'm diabetic myself and I can speak to that experience personally, but I'm wanting to incorporate some history, information about nutrition, and specific medical practices.
MBA: I remember you spoke about your family history with diabetes and it would make sense for you to explore the topic in your writing as well as in your life, to learn more about your body and healing and especially your family history with the disease. It's cathartic. Knowledge will help you heal and it is key in living a full life.
ils: I would imagine, however, that you've found yourself doing more than a bit of research in the past given some of your subject matter?
MBA: For me, the value of research lies not only in its product, but in the very act of discovering a true poetic voice inside what are often very public subjects. Right now, research for me means looking into Portuguese fairy tales, I have about a hundred stories, classical tales and those documented from oral interviews by Manuel da Costa Fontes (collected from Azoreans and Portuguese who settled in California from the 1970's until present day). Along the way, part of my research involves identifying "archives" and how to access them—how to conduct meaningful interviews with potential historical sources, how to overcome setbacks and take advantage of windfalls, and, finally, how to incorporate research in such a way that deepens the poems artistically and lends authenticity without overwhelming.

Research also informs other aspects of my writing. Last fall I was a Formby Fellow at Texas Tech's Special Collections Library where I researched the letters, journals and artifacts of the underappreciated writer/activist Kay Boyle. In that case my research provided evidence for a series of non-fiction articles. But, back to poetry and research, broadly speaking, each poem presents a different occasion, a sequence of imaginative decisions around which the poet must improvise. And research is the entry point.

On another topic, how do you feel about writing/manuscript contests? For? Against? Good for poetry? Bad for poetry?
ils: At the moment, I'm having a hard time with them. I'd like to line them up and kick them in their backsides. Of course, if I actually received any of them, I'd be over the moon and no one would ever hear any bad-mouthing from me. I don't necessarily think they're good or bad for poetry itself…I think I've come to accept, like all the pangs and joys associated with submitting poems or manuscripts for publication, that they're part of the literary world we live in. Perhaps they let in a new voice every now and then…though I think they should be approached like lottery tickets—it's more important to make smart choices than to go for quantity.
MBA: I feel the SAME way. It's stupid, really. If my experience with manuscript competitions were in any other aspect of my life, I would have kicked the habit long ago since my efforts have (at best) netted me only a handful of semi-finalist and honorable mentions. To be fair, all of my publications have occurred outside the confines of contests, so why do it?

Why pay money and submit? I don't know. Maybe it is a tax on stupidity? Maybe it's like the lottery, we all have stars in our eyes. As a system for finding good work, these competitions do not have a good track record. With a few notable exceptions like Yale Younger Poets Prize and some women-owned presses which have produced excellent work.

Like you say, though, if I WON one, I think I, too, would be over the moon. At best these contests DO provide an income for indie and university presses. The ones I appreciate the most are those which publish great books, of course. But, I feel less "taken" when for my entry fee I at least get a copy of the winning book or a subscription to the journal.

How has "community" informed or inspired your poetry?
ils: I wouldn't be a poet without community—or at least I can't even imagine it. I only wrote in solitude as a child and a teenager—although that was probably because writing was an escape from a lot of my childhood. In college, I read at cultural gatherings and protests and demonstrations. Poetry felt very communal—everyone had a comment/response/reaction.

In the many years since, I've been involved with smaller and larger writing communities. And I'm wholly invested in creating opportunities for writers to make community for each other.

Hmm, I just realized I understood your question as being about writing communities as opposed to Latin@/Women/People of Color/LGQBT/working-class communities. Apparently, I'm defining myself as writer first now. I, personally, don't claim that I'm a community activist because I'm a poet. I wouldn't claim to be telling the stories of my people—any of my peoples—or of speaking for those who don't have a voice. At the same time, all of that informs who I am, where my poetry comes from, what voice I use, what subjects I claim, and what I find it most important to say.

I'm curious about where you've found and created a writing community? I know that for me, CantoMundo was a huge experience this year. I told someone I felt as if my 'poetry chakra' had been cleared during the retreat—I felt enormously affirmed as a poeta por vida (poet for life)! What do you think of the need for organizations/retreats like CantoMundo?
MBA: I like the image of "poetry chakra"! Eons ago, in graduate school, I was surrounded by and enlightened by community, then came the lean years when I lived alone in Venice. My sole "community" was email with my friends and a writer pen-pal I had in Illinois. I kept wishing I could find other writers "like me" out there who maybe would like to get together once in awhile to discuss work and life and things literary. Then one day I said to myself, why not start your OWN group? And so I did. I posted announcements about a new writing group and, four years later, it's still going on. We meet once a month for lunch, commiseration and share one poem each. We have a somewhat strict format, which works for us.
ils: So we're getting to the end of this cross-interview and I know there are a few more questions we wanted to address…
MBA: What have you worked the hardest to achieve in your poetry?
ils: Volatility and music and concentration. You?
MBA: Capturing a moment

When did you first identify yourself as a writer?
ils: Although I didn't tell anyone I was a writer, I think I realized how important it was to me when I was about fifteen. My family did a lot of travelling when I was a kid. My parents were migrant truck drivers (transporting vegetables, fruits, and other items from the field to the processing plants), and we lived in a lot of different spaces, tiny apartments, motel rooms, small houses. I wrote in the restroom at night with a towel under the door so I wouldn't disturb anyone. Wrote at least ten pages a day religiously for years. Actually telling people I was a writer came much later—probably my junior year in college. What about you?
MBA: I got pneumonia when I was in elementary school and had to stay in bed for an extended time. It was then I read Little Women and the Oz series and the Mary Poppins books. I tied yarn through the holes of three-ring binder paper and made my own "books." I felt I truly had a cause!
ils: And last question for us both: what are your current and future projects?
MBA: Things I am working on: 1) a collection of poems based on Portuguese fairy tales; 2) revising my manuscript Only More So (for publication with Salmon in 2012); recuperating from a whirlwind trip to Norfolk, VA where I was a visiting poet at The Muse Writers Center and Barnes and Noble Books in the Park event.
ils: Things I'm working on: 1) my collection of poetry about diabetes and healing; 2) a novel about a hermaphrodite's search for love and identity set in South Texas; and 3) I'm co-coordinating a literary festival, the Flor De Nopal Literary Festival, which will take place December 1-3, 2011. For more info on the festival you can visit:

Thank you, Millicent. This exchange with you has been a real pleasure.
MBA: Thank you ire'ne! I'm going to miss our chats!

Boxcar Poetry Review - ISSN 1931-1761