INTERVIEW WITH MILLICENT BORGES
BY ELLEN LEWIS

Where are you from? Where are you now?

I was born in Long Beach, CA and after living in downtown Los Angeles, Venice and a few semesters abroad in Paris and Prague, I now live in Topanga Canyon.

What are you working on now?

My day job is as a technical writer, but as far as my creative work goes, I have written articles for the Topanga Messenger (a local paper) and am also writing new poems. I continue to submit my work for publication and have a number of full-length manuscripts that I am circulating. I also work on grant applications.

Does your environment influence your writing?

Sometimes. You know. It depends. When I was in Prague, I wrote nothing of the city, but, like, a few years later, it was all I could write about. . . when I travel, I tend to take notes, then put those notes away for future reference. Now that I moved away from the "desert" of living on the beach of Venice for the past 12 years, for the first time ever, I have a backyard, so some plants and flower names are seeping into my poems. I am not ready to be known as the Garden Poet quite yet, but working alone, here, isolated from the noise of the colorful Boardwalk has made my work softer, quieter. At least I think so. We were in Rome over the holidays and I haven't written an Italian sonnet yet!

What are your literary influences?

I read a lot. There are so many wonderful writers out there. As far as poets, I like the work of the following "modern" poets: Lynda Hull, Robert Lowell, Elizabeth Bishop, Ralph Angel, Carl Dennis, WS Merwin, David Huddle, CK Williams, Stephen Dunn, Stephen Sandy, Michael Harper, Maxine Kumin, CD Wright, Frank O'Hara, Wallace Stevens, there are too many to list here. As far as fiction goes, Charles Baxter, AS Byatt, Richard Ford, AM Homes, Richard Russo, Iris Murdock, Raymond Carver, Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, Wilkie Collins, Steinbeck...

What are you reading now?

I just finished Frank Conroy's essay collection: Dogs Bark, but the Caravan Rolls On: Observations from Then and Now. John Updike's The Early Stories. Old School, by Tobias Wolff and CK Williams' poems, The Singing, are waiting in the wings. I've been working on Robert Lowell's Collected Poems and Pound's collection, as well as Charles Baxter's Sal And Patsy since before the holidays.

What was your breakthrough moment as a writer?

I think there were many. But, one I remember was in 1991, I had piles of Ph.D. catalogues all around me. I had just left my first husband and was working on my MA, with intentions of continuing on to get my doctorate. I was struggling through the required French and failing miserably. I had French posters all over the house; I went to sleep listening to French tapes; I tried to emerge myself IN French. It just wasn't happening. I went to my first Associated Writing Programs annual conference that spring in Miami on a fellowship. I was, like, one of the only students there. The AWP was a relatively small affair at the time. I met Donald Revell, Mark Cox, Ralph Angel, Marianne Boruch, Yusef Komunyakaa, Beckian Fritz Goldberg — all working writers. I was barely a tagalong, but I read their work and sat in on a few drinking sessions. I realized that it WAS possible to BE a writer. With 32 units and a thesis half completed, I dropped out of the MA program at CSULB, threw out the catalogues and decided to get an MFA instead. I applied to Boston College and USC, ended up at USC in their wonderful Masters in Professional Writing Program.

What writing accomplishments are you most proud of?

National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, Yaddo residency, California Arts Council writing grant, finishing my first poetry manuscript, getting two poems in The Tampa Review.

How do you juggle writing poetry/fiction with having to pay the rent?

I write for a living. It does not matter, really, what kind of writing I am doing at the moment. It is ALL writing. I am lucky that way, to get to make a decent living and support myself through writing. I make enough, working from home, as a technical writer to be able to take time off for other writing and residencies. When I get a grant, I usually stop the technical writing, but when the money runs out, I return. During slow times, I supplement everything with unemployment and adjunct teaching.

Do you have any writing rituals/tricks to get you started?

Turn the television off. Read. Wake up. I get some good ideas from dreams, so early morning writing has been a good ritual for me. Also, reading someone else's work helps jump start ideas for writing in my own head.

Do you write free-hand or on a computer or both?

I compose first drafts on these heavy-duty legal pads that Cambridge makes, then for second and zillionth drafts, I translate the handwritten work onto the computer.

What advice do you have for writers?

If you can do something else, do it. I have writing classes filled with people who "think" they want to write. They had a poem published when they were eight, but haven't written anything "creative" in the past twenty years, so if you don't HAVE to write, run as fast as your can away from the lifestyle. There are plenty of other worthy things you can do to make a difference in the world. Like with the television show, American Idol, there are a lot of folks out there who are better suited for other careers and since writing is such a dicey proposition anyway, you'd be much happier if you just did not put yourself through all this angst, effort, hassle and poverty. That said, if you ARE serious and I have not talked you out of it, the best advice I have is to read. The second advice I have is to write, then be persistent.

Biographical Note

Millicent C. Borges has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the California Arts Council, and the Barbara Deming Foundation--as well as residencies at Yaddo, Jentel and Vermont Studio and a recent nomination for a Pushcart Prize. Her work has appeared in over 50 literary publications including Sycamore Review, Laurel Review, Tampa Review, and the Wallace Stevens Journal. She presently has four manuscripts in circulation and is looking forward to the publication of her first book.

Her work has been anthologized in Boomer Girls: Women Poets Come of Age (University of Iowa Press), To Honor a Teacher (Andrews McMeel), Poetry is Not a Luxury: Poetry by Los Angeles Women of Color (forthcoming) Redlands University, Why Can't You See Me? Poems of Disability. Inglis House Press (2003), Mercy of Tides — Poems for a Beach House. The Salt March Pottery Press (2003). She just moved to Topanga Canyon after living in Venice for many years. She is self-employed as a technical writer. She has received graduate degrees in English, literature and writing from CSULB and USC.

Millicent Borges' Poetry

W.S. Merwin: "[Her poems] show the same sureness, clarity, and focus that she has in her way of talking and moving..."

New Directions, Tim Davis: "[Her work] has a variety of tonalities, from a soft, expressionistic language reminiscent of the later work of. . . Denise Levertov, to harder narrative-infused work like the jazz poetry..."

New Issues, Herbert Scott: "I like her work a lot--the vision of the world that comes through--surprising and quirky enough to delight me..."

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MILLICENT C. BORGES

Millicent C. Borges, CSULB, B.A. English 1988, graduate work in literature 1989-1991, M.A. USC 1993, is the receipient of major writing grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, The California Arts Council, an award from the Elizabeth Kempthorne Foundation, and has received many other honors, including a listing in A Directory of Poets and Fiction Writers. She's completed residencies at Vermont Studio Center and Yaddo, an artists community in Saratoga Springs, NY.

Millicent's poetry has appeared in over 50 journals, including Sycamore Review, Tampa Review, Interim, Karamu, Madison Review, and Witness. Her work has also been featured in several anthologies, including: Boomer Girls: Poems by Women from the Baby Boom Generation, University of Iowa Press; To Honor a Teacher: Students Pay Tribute to Their Most Influential Mentors, Andrews McMeel Publishing; Clockpunchers: Prose and Poetry of the Workplace, Partisan Press.

Last spring, Millicent was a panelist at the Associated Writing Programs (AWP) Annual Conference in Palm Springs in a tribute to John Rechy. The previous year at AWP, she was on a panel called, "Boomer Girls Out Loud" with Denise Duhamel, Allison Joseph, Kate Sontag, and others.

Millicent lives in Topanga, CA, working as a freelance technical writer and teaching college writing as an adjunct instructor. For additional information or a copy of her resume, you can email Millicent at millb@aol.com.

FEATURED WORK AND LINKS

Poetry Super Highway

Writer's Register

University of Iowa Press

USC Alumni Awards

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