BY ERIC MARKOWSKY
Author: Millicent Borges Accardi
2010, Mischievous Muse Press
Injuring Eternity offers readers a variety of voices, techniques, and subjects. There are first person confessions, third person narratives, and linguistically adventurous lyric poems. The work addresses family, love, politics, art, and religion. It tackles current events, popular culture, and spares a few asides for Miles Davis. It’s an ambitious collection that takes a lot of risks.
Unfortunately, that ambition isn’t always realized, and the risks don’t always pay off. Reading Injuring Eternity, I found myself starting and stopping, entranced one moment, puzzled the next. The good poems are good enough to make the weaker ones all the more disappointing. There’s a lot of talent in these verses, and a lot of promise, but overall the whole collection leaves an impression of potential rather than accomplishment.
Consistently, the best poems confronted personal matters, family, growing up, and the mother daughter relationship. These poems were often simple, nimble, and almost effortlessly evocative. “Photograph of My Mother as a Young Mother” suggests a complex relationship through fashion choices and gestures, a mother presenting her daughter for the camera as the speaker now presents her mother for the reader.
My mother is turning slightly
So as to face the camera,
As if to jump in and say, “Stop, don’t
Take me in this outfit, just take the child.”
The speaker guides the reader through this frozen moment from the past, turning at the end to take in the perspective of the little girl in the photo: “Just out of / Camera range, the car, the future, my father / and everything else.”
Poems like this one, “Jules,” and “The Last Letter to My Mother” were enveloping. They never once tripped me up or called undo attention to their own formal elements. A number of the other poems, however, failed just where these succeeded. Heavy-handed sentimentality or halting line breaks left me puzzling over a particular choice at the expense of my experience of the poem as a whole and kept me from fully inhabiting the language.
In “Please,” a response to the BP oil disaster, the speaker asks the natural world to forgive humanity our folly. It opens by demonizing selfish “Americans needing / To drive” and exalting “dear fish and dolphins and sea creatures.” Then the poem stalls. It never moves beyond these shallow characterizations, closing on the same pleading note from the opening lines. “Devotion to the Breath,” makes similar missteps, anthropomorphizing breath as a lover without then expanding or complicating the central conceit.
In “Serving,” a poem about two lovers working the same shift at a diner, the lines tend to break so that a new line begins with one or two words before a comma or a period. This tactic leaves some lines hanging on a qualifier looking for its referent and creates a double-stopping effect, almost like the poem is stuttering:
You and I work the swing
Shift. Food all night
Long, consuming us…
Wiping off ketchup
Lids, filling sugar
Breaks like this appear in a number of poems, including “How to Get Passionate” and “At the Makeup Counter.” In each case, I was torn between feeling that the poem was being withholding or else that it couldn’t make up its mind.
In the end, not being able to make up its mind turned out to be the main weakness of the collection as a whole. It tries to do so many different things from one poem to the next that it buries its best offerings. The good stuff here is very good, and it makes me wonder what kind of collection Accardi might produce in the future if she focused on the more personal, confessional material in her work and followed it as far as it would lead.
Similar Reads: For good, contemporary poets, check out Valzhyna Mort and Major Jackson.
[This review was requested and a review copy was provided.]