Millicent Borges Accardi has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council and the Barbara Deming Foundation. Her work has appeared in over 50 literary publications including Laurel Review, New Letters, Nimrod and the Wallace Stevens Journal. Among the anthologies in which you’ll find her work are Boomer Girls, Chopin with Cherries (Moonrise Press) and To Honor a Teacher.

Her newest collection, Woman on a Shaky Bridge, has just been released. We took this opportunity to ask her a few questions about her philosophy and her process. Happily, we’ll be spotlighting her work in the coming months.

By way of introducing this stunning collection, you cite an experiment where men were interviewed by a woman after crossing a shaky bridge and others after crossing a solid bridge.  Apparently the woman was asked out by more of the men who crossed the unsure path, leading to the conclusion that anxiety and sexual arousal are closely linked.  Are you the woman or are you the observer of anxiety—or both?

I’d say I am the observer. Poets are witnesses, observers, the ones who write the history down so events will be remembered. I like the study because it associates sexual arousal with danger/anxiety, a notion that explains so much about how men and women interact in the world.

Now the obvious question:  Did you always know you were a poet and that this would be your chosen path?  How old were you when you first published?

In elementary school, I got walking pneumonia and was confined to bed, where I read TONS of books and got the bug in my brain that I might want to be a writer. In junior high, friends of my parents put together a chapbook of my poetry. After that I was an editor on a journal for young people, sponsored by the public library. Then, fast forward, I majored in English in college and was getting an MA in literature looking to apply for PhD programs when I did a 180 and decided to abandon my thesis and do a terminal writing degree (this was the Master of Professional Writing at University of Southern California—USC), deciding that I would rather piecemeal a life with writing. This took me on a path road of freelance technical writing, instructional design, reviews and articles for a local arts publication.

I’d say my poems started appearing regularly in journals in the early 1990s—No major markets like The New Yorker or Poetry, but nice university journals like Tampa Review, Seattle Review, Nimrod, New Letters. There is so much wonderful work in small presses and indie journals these days.

Do you write at a specific time of day?  Do you make an appointment with your muse?

My husband gets up at 5 a.m. for work, and I usually start my day then too. When I lived in Venice, I used to write in the early morning nearly every day before my “day job” started.  Now, I’d say I just keep the channels of inspiration open and am grateful when poems arrive.  Some say they wait for the muse or “a ghost.”

I think I just have the good sense to stop and write down thoughts when they sound important to me. My writing time is more like my life, unplanned and free-flowing. Each day is a new experience, a new schedule.

It’s just part of my life, whether the poems show up in the middle of the night or after lunch.  I try to listen to the muse rather than force or impose my will, although I do encourage her with reading, the use of prompts, and exchanging work with other writers.  I founded a women’s writers group and we meet once a month to share work and literary news (as well as chit chat and lunch, which may or may not involve wine).  I also exchange poems once a week with another writer.

Some of what I think is my best work has shown up after long periods of what people might call doing nothing. It’s creating a vessel for the work to happen and being open and willing to record the inspiration when it comes along.  Often times, I will write about events years or months after the fact. I’m not so great at writing on command.

Our readers are women who are believers in life offering new opportunities at vitality after the burst that is youth.  Do you have any advice for those who would like to start writing at this point in their lives?

I think writers who discover their voice later in life often have more to say and have a better sensibility about where they fit in the universe.  Youth possesses a certainty, a misnamed sarcasm or cockiness that, when stripped away by life itself, often reveals wisdom.  I think people who write later in life have more to say because they have a half a lifetime of built up memories with which to work.  I don’t know what I would do if I could not write.  It brings meaning to my life.

We assume you work as a technical writer in order to afford to be the poet you are and we see that you’ve had numerous artist residencies. Could you comment on how you bring those parts of yourself together?

In my life, time, especially time to write, is what I fight for. It is a priority, it is my focus.  My “day job” as a technical writer/instructional designer not only buys me a roof over my head, it “buys” time.

My day job is primarily remote, so I get to stay home and, in between meetings and deadlines, I bake bread, garden or do yoga.  Every day I am grateful for this lifestyle. The unpredictable pace is an asset. My days range from 12 hours to part-time. The variety and the flexibility allow me to spend more time making poems. No one seems to have time to sit still, to be grateful, and to just “be.” I feel as if I have gladly adopted a simpler, easier, more earth-bound way of life. My days are, for the most part, unscheduled. I make food from scratch and am always trying to find new ways to simplify, to save money, to do with less. Of course I worry about finances—but my goal is to buy as much time to write as I can. That’s what I work for.

Unless I am forced to because I cannot find a new project (for whatever reason), I truly aim for remote, freelance assignments. Of course, in the back of my head, I tell myself that if things really get bad, I can always go back to being a waitress or an artist model (the “careers” I had which put me through college).

Then, when I get lucky, every once in a while, like a blind squirrel I find an acorn! And, I am lucky enough to be offered a residency, which is a massive blessing. My NEA fellowship allowed me to take nearly a year off to write poetry! I was in Spain for a month in the fall of 2008 and last September, I was in Cesky Krumlov in the Czech Republic. I cannot thank these foundations enough for their support and belief in me and my work. It means everything.

You’ve put together a good strategy strategy for sustaining your creative life. By and large, though, you don’t see American women as being particularly well-situated these days. Why is that?

I think so many women won a battle and yet lost a war with the women’s movement. Sure, women have made inroads in a man’s world in the workplace (in a few areas) but they have also lost a lot. While I like the options I am afforded as a female, I am also in mourning for the losses. Women in the 1950s were expected to be housewives and mothers and that was it—unless you were outside the model of what was expected.

Then came the 1960s and everything changed.  I think the idea was equality and freedom, but in actuality, woman got stuck with the short end of the stick.

Today, if a woman wants to be a stay-at-home mother, the workplace generally does not support this model due to the expected two-income households that especially in the US have become “the norm.”

Having “it all” does not mean having it all. It means working a full-time job while someone else raises your children and then ALSO maintaining a house (cleaning, cooking, etc.).

We women have not gained that much in return for a distinct loss of time and leisure.  I chose not to have children, but I see my friends struggling.  They deal with daycare and the expectations are still that they are housewives (responsible for the exact same chores that women have always been responsible for).  In my own circle of friends I see very little has changed in the ways of men splitting household duties.  Maybe a few men cook? Or maybe others pitch in once in a while to fold laundry, but, the bulk of the chores seem to rest on women’s shoulders.  Sometimes I wonder just what we women HAVE gained?

That’s a provocative position! We’ll be interested to hear what WVFC readers think about that. Meanwhile, to close our conversation, here’s one final query: What question do you wish we’d asked you and how would you answer it?

Oh gosh. I guess I want to answer a question about the book cover for Woman on a Shaky Bridge.  My husband is an artist and the painting (of me) is a large-scale oil that he painted.  It was one of those moments—I was sitting on the couch and Charles had finished a series of nude self portraits, then, another series of fallen soldiers, and was about to launch onto a new pathway when he looked at me and said, There! I had just returned from yoga and had no makeup on and I was not all that engaged. But when it came time to choose a cover, I thought that painting was perfect.

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  • Anne-Suzette Sadolin June 18, 2010 at 12:10 am

    Thanks Millicent for sharing your splendid wisdom and human humor in poems for us all!!
    Your writing reflects your personality.

  • Larry Colker June 12, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    This interview sparked many thoughts…but I kept waiting for the theme of the opening, how men and women relate, to return. It did in a way, with a thoughtful dicsussion of the fallout from “Women’s Lib” (as it was called in earlier days. I believe the main social accomplishment of the 20th century will eventually be seen to be the emancipation of women…in the West, at least.). When a woman wants to work, I hear the chorus of men who have worked for bosses for the last two centuries mutter under their breath: “Welcome to the workplace. You want it, you got it.” The dearth of workplace childcare in the US is a shame, pure and simple, along with ridiculously brief maternity leave. Women are definitely more interesting when marriage is not their sole concern. Thanks, Millicent Accardi for the insight into integrating the artistic life and work life.

  • Bronwen June 11, 2010 at 11:07 pm

    Thank you for this interview. I love that you garden, bake bRead, and practice yoga in the quieter moments — all such rooting activities. I think that the women’s movement ripped up the expectations that were so ingrained in our society and offered choie for the first time. But like you said, for many, the movement simply swung women into a different kind of choice-less-ness. Being a mother of young children and a writer, i think about roles a lot and constantly question which come from some societal expectation and which are organic to my days and what i would like to be doing. Much to think about. Thank you for continuing the conversation and for sharing your thoughts and poems.

  • Eleanor Andrews June 10, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    An insightful and thought-provoking interview!

  • Anny Ballardini June 10, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    Millicent Borges Accardi’s enthusiasm is what I have most enjoyed in this interview. Getting up at five every morning, writing, working, getting things done while being open and grateful to everyday life is a serious accomplishment, besides her excellent writing I have been following for some time.

  • Lin Van Gelder June 10, 2010 at 10:19 am

    One more thing.. poetry and art may be what separates man from beast. I believe that we need like oxygen to have poetry and art as part of our daily lives.

  • Lin Van Gelder June 10, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Great interview! Many years ago, I worked with Mill at one of her “temporary” tech writing jobs – at a refinery. I used to say then that one day, the world would know her, and I could say, “I knew her when…” I don’t believe I have ever worked with anyone who had such great integrity about their work, and I mean Mill’s poetry. It is exactly as she stated – the poet observes life. Watching how committed she was to finding the right way to say what she needed to say was a great experience for me, and I am a better writer myself because of it. We also had a lot of FUN since we were surrounded by men and outnumbered 10 to 1. Plus, sitting on top of a hydrocracker created a tension all its own. I value her opinions and take to heart her advice.

  • Franz Wright June 10, 2010 at 4:23 am

    I am very moved by the courage and determination and, clearly, sheer love of the art that I find in these words. Franz W

  • Kathabela Wilson June 10, 2010 at 4:02 am

    I love your emphasis on openness, confidence in the poetic experience and sensitive looking at life and its possibilities as we travel through it creatively. Your answer to your poetic roots is a bloom out of a looking, at a young age at the fragility of life and a listening to the strong voices of writers who have created a solidity out of it, for themselves and the future. This is what we can make of life and your creative voice does it here. The intimacy of sharing the details of your life in the interview resounds in the lives of all of us, as human experience. It is a gift that we have such a forum here that can let the poetic life be shown~ al of its work and playfulness.

  • Tamara Garlow June 10, 2010 at 12:59 am

    Thank you for interviewing Millicent. I participated in the same terminal writing degree at the same time as Mill, and have watched her career blossom over the years.

    As one of the women who struggles to have it all while feeling like I have nothing, I understand the challenges and choices that have to be made if one is to write. I have a robust career, three beautiful children, and a husband I adore — but the fact that both he and I have created some level of professional success means that our lives are owned by it, and every spare moment belongs to our children.

    To be able to buy time to write is a luxury I cannot afford–but one day, as the children grow, I will follow in Mill’s footsteps, knowing my experiences will be enriched for having had to make these tough choices along the way.

  • Jacques June 10, 2010 at 12:25 am

    Great interview!!! I enjoyed every question and response from Millicent. She has a truly captivating perspective on life. I just bought a copy of her book “Woman on a Shaky Bridge” and can’t wait to read it.

  • Jack June 9, 2010 at 11:17 pm

    WOASB is a damned good, contemplative read. The collection and the interview are grounded in the realities most of us feel or experience. Thanks for giving us the chance to know Millicent better.

  • Megan June 5, 2010 at 12:00 am

    I really enjoyed this interview. I enjoyed Millicent’s comments about the feminist movement. I work in child care and see all too often the stress working full time causes to both Mothers and their children. Millicent is a very wise and gentle person. She is inspiring and insightful, and it is worthwhile to explore her poetry.

  • matt June 3, 2010 at 10:47 pm

    Thanks for sharing the “cover story” with us!

  • madeleine Butcher June 1, 2010 at 11:10 pm

    Loved the interview! Loved Millicent’s need for time, “doing nothing”…waiting…for a poem to come to her.

  • Robert June 1, 2010 at 7:17 pm

    Good interview, Laura & Millicent… Also, very good book, Millicent.

  • Cat Spydell June 1, 2010 at 10:58 am

    Millicent is a brilliant poet and an insightful person. My company, World Nouveau/Mischievous Muse Press is publishing a book of her poetry soon called “Injuring Eternity”. What I wasn’t as aware of is how astute she is about women in today’s society. She is the only person (other than myself!) who I have heard say that “women may have gotten the short end of the stick” from the women’s movement. I believe that as well.

    Women are expected to “do it all” and while men too have risen up to some degree to help with the household chores and raising of the family, etc, the pressure of a married couple today to “maintain it all” with a two income family, keeping up a home and raising children, and not to mention (let’s be realistic) keeping up with community and charity work, volunteering, extended family etc, has had a huge negative impact on many marriages. A successful married couple with kids practially needs a staff to survive these times, to maintain what one woman could do alone sixty years ago. It’s a very profound situation, but one that most women do not step back to examine.

    Millicent is a voice for this age and has an extraordinary talent that I have watched grow and develop over the years, as we met in college when she was a young poet. The thing I admire most about Millicent, aside from her amazing craft as a poet, is that she allowed herself to continue to be a poet, and found a way to create that in her life. Brava Millicent! Many women poets from our college days are now working married housewives, poetry a mere memory and something that they say they “used to do”. Good for Millicent that she can proudly say “I am a poet”, and that she is a successful one at that.

  • Melinda Ahrens June 1, 2010 at 8:32 am

    What an inspiring article! Great questions by Laura Baudo Sillerman, and really interesting answers from Millicent Borges Accardi about such conundrums as time and the way it has changed for today’s woman. As an aspiring writer myself, hearing how this passionate author is able to carve out a space for her voice gives me hope that it is still possible; that even though I wrestle with the great black ape of Lost Time, and its offspring, Regret and Despair, that somehow I will still succeed…perhaps not through destruction, but by coming to terms with these monsters. Maybe even by allowing them to exist, within the context of my work. Perhaps it is there that they may be contained, and I, finally find peace. Thank you for lighting the way!

  • TopangaTif May 31, 2010 at 1:21 pm

    I just read this interview and really enjoyed it. Not only is Millicent Borges Accardi a gifted poet and writer, she also has a lot of wisdom to share. I really like what was said about the women’s movement. So true! I also like the advise regarding having a true life focus and letting the other chips fall as they may.

  • Mary Ellington May 29, 2010 at 10:43 pm

    Thanx Millicent. I really admire how you can accompish all you do and still find time to write. Looking forward to your next publication!!

  • Anne Harding Woodworth May 29, 2010 at 10:55 am

    Thanks, Millicent. You’re right about the gains and losses. And it’s in poetry, too. The gains in gender equality mean women are also learning to live superficially and hypocritically and greedily, just like men. That doesn’t make for good poets. It’s sad. Thanks to you and Laura for a good interview.

  • Antonia Reed May 28, 2010 at 11:46 pm

    I love the cover on your book! I also love the way you think about what women have gained or not gained since the feminist movement. Very smart woman! Thank you Millicent.

  • JP May 28, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    Wonderful interview of wonderful poet! It’s so nice to read something concrete about living as a writer today. Thank you.