A Review of Millicent Borges Accardi’s collection, “Practical Love Poems”

“Practical Love Poems”? Practical and Poetry? How is poetry practical? Does Millicent Accardi’s title, “Practical Love Poems,” refer to the content or the form? Or both? If one googles “practical” several definitions appear including: 1) “of or concerned with the actual doing or use of something rather than with theory or ideas; “ 2) suitable for a particular purpose, and 3) sensible and realistic in their approach to a situation or problem. “ It is a curious title because in a way it is ironic– since poetry, at least that which is written down, and not recited or improvised, is often considered anything but sensible or realistic. It is usually not a “practical” art form or genre in the United States, but one practiced and read by the highly educated, often in the academy.

“Practical Love Poems” by Millicent Borges Accardi, of Portuguese-American descent, includes 61 poems on a wide range of themes. The style of the poems is for the most part free verse, and none of them rhyme. Each one does maintain its on rhythm, although lines and verses (when they exist) are not based on classical or traditional forms. The form is “practical” since it is contemporary and open. She is not concerned with imitating traditional form or stylistics as much as with conveying emotions and ambiance. Also the content is often “practical” in the sense that she writes about events and things that happen to every day “regular” people. This poetry highlights how important one person, event or thing, can be in the life of another—love (or hate). What does come through this collection is a love of and importance of the home, of family, and the simplicity of life. That seems to me to be very português, even though she writes in English and there are hardly any references to Portugal or anything Portuguese.

When one reads the Table of Contents, one gets a taste of this “practicality” and earthiness as well. “Something Dirty,” “It Didn’t Feel Dangerous, “ How to Cope with Living,” and “On the Phone to the UK” are just a few of the poems in this collection. I don’t know if all the people referenced or the narrators in these poems are real or not, but I did feel I got to know a little about them after reading the poems. Accardi’s descriptions are realistic but at the same time there is an underlying meaning, multiple interpretations, to these images. So this is not narrative. It IS poetry, even though it eschews more romantic lyricism and symbols. For example, in I Make Soup from the Leftover Turkey Carcass, she describes the recipe and what she and her husband do to the leftover turkey:

…I fill

The spaghetti pot half-full

Of water and break up

The bones to fit the vessel, adding

Brown, wrinkled onion

Skins, onions, celery…

Middle age, our time together,

The house. All re-energized

By this second thanksgiving.

In detail, we savor the ingredients and the aroma of this soup. She creates the atmosphere of the kitchen and gives the reader ample sensory information to imagine this scene. Yet, the key to it all, the underlying message, that we discover, is not necessarily that the soup was delicious, which I’m sure it was, but that there is real love there. The cooperation between her and husband, this couple time, is special. The “second thanksgiving” in this home, seems to be more intimate and more important than the big party thanksgiving that was already experienced. To me, com certeza, it feels like uma casa portuguesa.

Not all the poems are sweet though. There is something for everybody in this collection. Love, saudade, revenge, and trauma can all be part of daily life. In Perpetual Motion, Accardi pulls out the vivid raw language to describe someone who lives a difficult life, possibly on the edge of madness:

She moves through

Space like a raw cut

On an arm that won’t scab:

Bleeding, tender, at will

Nearly ready to break open

And bleed into the sidewalk….

One of my favorite poems is called My Talisman. In this poem, her talismans are catalysts for nostalgia, or even saudade. The lemon candle, an arrow head from Wyoming, part of a glass dome from Germany, a kaleidoscope, a unicorn and a doll take us down memory lane. Each one brings back a moment in time that was important to the poet. The objects, just like the verses, evoke cherished experiences.

Practical Love Poems, in its simplicity and down to earth language, is an accessible read even for those not accustomed to reading poetry. It is pleasant enough a book to open up while relaxing, yet offers enough profound emotions to ponder and analyze if one wishes.

“Tu boca en los cielos:” A New Documentary about Sephardic Jews of North Africa

Imagine if you could confront every person who ever wronged you. Well, maybe not every single one. But how about the one(s) who you felt mistreated you the worst in your life? Would you want to tell them about how terrible they were? Or would you prefer to show them how you picked yourself up and made the best of your life in spite of their cruelty or injustice?

In Tu boca en los cielos, (directed by Miguel Ángel Nieto), Rachel, a Sephardic Jew from Tangier, takes the second approach and writes a letter (and delivers it to their tomb in Granada) to the long dead Catholic monarchs of Spain. Queen Isabel and King Fernando, exiled the Jewish people from their Catholic kingdoms in 1492, with the infamous “Edict of Expulsion.”  In this stirring and heartfelt documentary, Rachel’s letter serves as the point of departure to explore adaptations and accomplishments by descendents of the expelled Jews over the last five centuries in North Africa. Specifically, the documentary highlights individuals, communities and traditions from Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia.

The official English title of the documentary is the poetic “Your Wishes in Heaven.” When I watched the documentary, and thought of the title in Spanish, Tu boca en los cielos, I was reminded of a more literal and physically descriptive phrase uttered by Jewish friends: “From your lips to God’s ears!” which I’ve heard many times, and conveys a similar meaning. Regardless, this saying in either English or Spanish, is in the vernacular of many Jewish people and can be traced back to the Psalms in scripture. But it also appears in Arabic and Hebrew, which epitomizes the blend of cultures that characterize the subjects of the film.

Tu boca en los cielos is a captivating and enlightening documenary. Although I had some knowledge of Sephardic cultures and history, I had never delved into the experience of those in North Africa. The film features several elderly Jews who tell the story of their ancestors and/or their communities in the region.

Some of the highlights for me were the explanation of the “Noche Berberisca” (The Berber Night), a celebration held the night before a Sephardic wedding in Morocco. The bride’s dress and exotic headgear in themselves are alluring, and the ceremony is entrancing.


Thrones for bride and groom in the Noche BerberiscaMaor X [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

I also learned about  the “Mimuna,” an event to mark the end of Passover, and pilgrimages. “La Haketia” is the language passsed down for generations spoken by Sephardic Jews in Morocco. Very similar to Spanish, the language incorporates influences from Hebrew, Arabic, French and Portuguese. The archives of Simancas in Valladolid, Spain is a significant repository of  documents about Spains’ Jews before and after expulsion. Moreover, many Sephardic writers have commercially and self-published books, such as Lusia Salama, Luna Bentata and Èlie Benchetrit.  The quantity of cultural information in Tu boca en los cielos is overflowing and just too much to list here. 

Finally, what adds to the charm of Tu boca en los cielos is the soundtrack and the inclusion of original music by Tomás Lozano and performances by other musicians, such as Mara Aranda and Paco Diez.  In this documentary, “Sefarad”, in all its visual and auditory splendor, is posited as more than the Iberian peninsula pre-1492. It is a spiritual memory or consciousness.   It has remained in the mind, heart and soul of a people for over five centuries. What I understood from this film, is that being Sephardic is not just about being a descendent of those Spanish Jews who had to leave for maintaining their religion, but also about all the new cultures, languages and experiences that these people encountered and embraced for more than 500 years.

Tu boca en los cielos has been shown in different cities in Spain, in New York City and is making the rounds in film festivals around the world. I definitely recommend you catch it when it comes to your area–especially those interested in North Africa, Sephardic Jews or their history. Here is a glimpse from the trailer:

TU BOCA EN LOS CIELOS / teaser from Miguel Ángel Nieto on Vimeo.