Portuguese American Journal

Poet: Michael Garcia Spring traces his bloodline back to the Azores – Interview

By Millicent Accardy

Poet Michael Garcia Spring, the author of five books, lives in Southwest Oregon where he works as a martial arts instructor. His writing achievements include a Robert Graves Award, Turtle Island Poetry Award, and an honorable mention for the Eric Hoffer Book Award. In 2016, he received a scholarship to attend the Disquiet literary program in Lisbon, Portugal.

The program, which aim is to deepen mutual understanding among writers from North America and writers from Portugal, takes its inspiration from The Book of Disquiet by the great Lisbon poet Fernando Pessoa.

His latest poetry collection dentro do som/ inside the sound, a bilingual book of poems translated into Portuguese by Maria João Marques, was published in the Azores in 2021 Companhia das Ilhas. 

Poetry editor for The Pedestal Magazine, Cobra Lily Review, and Flowstone Press, his books include Unfolding the Field (Flowstone Press, 2016), Root of Lightning (Pygmy Forest Press, 2011), Mudsong (Pygmy Forest Press, 2005), Blue Crow (Potpourri Press, 2003).

For this interview with Millicent Accardi, Michael Garcia Spring talks about his Portuguese heritage, with roots in the Azores, and his connection to the sea,  diving, self-identity, living on a boat, Fado and Jazz, Kung Fu, meeting Vamberto Freitas, being in Lisbon, and the joys of observing otters, sea lions and seals. Currently he lives in O’Brien, Oregon, where he spends much of his time on a motor sailboat in Brookings.


Q: How would you describe your Portuguese heritage?

A: I’m half Portuguese and see myself as Luso-American. I like to say that I’m Azorean or Azorean-Portuguese because my maternal bloodline has been traced back almost exclusively to the Azores since the early 1700s and probably beyond.

Hopefully, with more research, I can find out more. Because I identify as a Luso-American, and I’m a poet, I seek publication in the Lusosphere. When submitting to Luso publications, I submit as Michael Garcia Spring to honor my Azorean-Portuguese lineage. “Garcia” is my mother’s maiden name.

Q: Do you participate in events with the Luso community?

A: I have in my youth attended a festa or two where I was born in Hanford, California. I have fond memories with my sisters and cousins on such occasions. Much of my family, including my paternal and maternal grandparents, lived in Hanford.

I’ve attended several Portuguese related music events – yes, often it’s Fado – which I love in all its variations. I love how the Portuguese guitar fuses well with Jazz too. I immediately think of the entrancing Carlos Paredes with Charlie Haden. The Portuguese guitar is a sound that transports me into another world, or further into this one. 

In California and Oregon there are many more Portuguese from the Azores than those from the mainland. It’s amazing how many Azorean-Portuguese are out there serving up family recipes! 

Q: Like many Portuguese writers, the sea is a theme in your writing.

A: My relationship with the sea is very important. I don’t know how to explain it. I live about an hour away from the coast. I’ve spent a lot of time along the rocky shorelines between Humboldt County, California, to Newport, Oregon.

A couple years ago I bought a 33 ft. Nauticat – a bluewater motorsailer – moored in Brookings, Oregon. I spend a lot of time on the boat with my partner Jazmine Blu. She grew up on boats. Her knowledge and expertise give me much confidence taking the boat out to open sea – she’s my captain!

Even if it’s to edit or catch up on writing or art projects, we spend a lot of time there in the harbor. Being on the boat is relaxing. I like the smell of salt in the air and to watch the commercial fishermen and women wrestling crab pots and containers of fish.

There’s such splendor in the light of the harbor with the sound of the ocean surging. I also like observing otters and sea lions and seals and great blue herons and northwest ravens. The farthest I’ve lived from the ocean is Hanford, California, where I was born. But perhaps with my boat, now, I’ll soon live on rather than near the ocean.

Q:  I read that your dad is a scuba diver.

A: My dad has played a role in my love for the sea. Yes, partly because he is a scuba diver. But, also, in my youth he took me deep sea fishing, and on a couple adventures climbing rocky pathways to secluded beaches. I’ve always admired he was a diver. I’ve had the opportunity to enter the ocean with him in the Caribbean where he had a gig teaching scuba diving. That was my first-time scuba diving in the ocean. It was magical.

My mother has also played a role in my love for the sea, too, as she would tell me stories about my Azorean grandfather’s experiences as a fisherman and his love for the sea.  And how he would dig up clams, filling a bucket, and cook and eat them on the beach. My mom and I haven’t yet dug up clams and ate them on the beach, not yet!  But we have had a bucket of clams, at a seaside restaurant in Newport, Oregon. Because of her, I’m nostalgic for clams in a garlic and white wine sauce overlooking the sea.

Q: What (if any) themes are there in Portuguese-American literature?

A: Connection to the land and culture they identify with. Connections to the sea, volcanic landscapes, artistic expressions of saudade that includes feeling nostalgic for places they’ve never been, and the search for self-identity.

Q: Do you have a favorite Portuguese writer?

A:  I have many. My favorite five of the past are Fernando Pessoa, José Saramago, Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen, Antero de Quental, and Eugénio de Andrade. Of the contemporary writers, I like Urbano Bettencourt, Katherine Vaz, Vamberto Freitas, Frank X. Gaspar, George Monteiro, and Lara Gularte. There are so many I like! I’m looking forward to discovering more.

Q: Can you discuss your experience at Disquiet, the international writing workshop held in Lisbon?

A: What an amazing time I spent in Lisbon during the summer of 2016. What got me there was a Luso-American fellowship sponsored by the Luso American Development Foundation (FLAD).

Disquiet offered high quality lectures and workshops and readings in various venues throughout Lisbon. I took several writing workshops. I liked Katherine Vaz’s Writing the Luso Experience workshop, where I had the opportunity to meet people I admired, but never thought I’d meet in person, including Richard Zenith, Frank Gaspar, Katherine Vaz, Oona Patrick, and Denis Johnson. 

I was introduced to the translator Maria João Marques who said she was interested in translating my poems (and inevitably did) into Portuguese. I spent most of my time in Lisbon but visited several places. I enjoyed visiting the fishing village of Cascais including Boco do Inferno, Évora including the Chapel of Bones, and the Cromlech of the Almendres, and Sintra.

In Lisbon I loved the miradouros! My favorite was Miradouro da Graça the viewpoint that honors Sophia de Mello Breyner Andresen. Outside of workshop activities, I attended several music events from experimental Jazz to traditional Fado in the Alfama district.

I marveled at the cobbled streets and azulejos and products made from cork.  I was introduced to vinho verde, bacalhau dishes and pastel de nata. I sought out art everywhere from wall murals and bookstores to museums and gardens. And the cafes! Before writing, I developed a morning ritual of um café e um pastel de nata. 

Another great memory during the time I was at Disquiet: Portugal won the UEFA European Championship over France. I got to be part of a European football culture celebrating not only a major game, but a victory. Lisbon was lit up with large screens and people – more people than I’ve ever seen in any one place for as far as I could see – a celebration that I was part of that lasted all night.

Q: And, after Lisbon?

A: I flew to the Azores for the first time, finally! I landed in Ponta Delgada of São Miguel to meet Vamberto Freitas face to face. Vamberto and I have been corresponding since my first book blue crow came out in 2003.

He led a class at the University of the Azores that translated my book into the Portuguese language and encouraged me to visit São Miguel. When I arrived in Ponta Delgada, he introduced me to José Carlos Oliveira Frias of Livraria Solmar and they gave me a tour of São Miguel – the Green Island!

We had lunch in a volcano (Furnas) and visited the twin lake complex of Lagoa das Sete Cidades. Such colors! I was also introduced to Urbano Bettencourt one of my favorite poets. After a few days in São Miguel, I then spent an additional week visiting Faial and Pico. I stayed on Faial where my grandfather and grandparents were born, and then took a ferry to Pico where my great-great grandparents and numerous other ancestors were born. I got to walk the landscapes of my ancestors!

I loved the harbor cloud forests of Faial and the Capelinhos Volcano. And, in Pico, the houses made of volcanic rock! And the lighthouses! And Mount Pico where, two years later, I would climb for my 55th birthday! And the food and wine! When I got off the ferry in Pico from Faial, I walked from Madalena to São Roque. Yes, I walked! I took in every scent and sound possible.

Q: In an interview for NEON you mentioned a fascination with martial arts and the circus, do these two interests intersect in your writing?

A: I’m very attracted to the artistic values of self-expression in the martial arts, and love that underworld flare the circus offers.

With the circus it’s projection and perhaps stepping into the imagination, with martial arts it’s experiential and stepping into the imaginal. I’ve practiced and taught martial arts for over 40 years. In the style of Kung Fu that I taught, there is a non-set pattern form that is similar to the Jungian concept of alchemical psychology. The forms focus on personifying, through movement, the elements of the natural world.

I guess what I’m trying to say, perhaps too hastily, is that the visceral and mysterious nature of the circus and the nature-based and physical expressions of the martial arts feed and inform my writing.

Q: Do you consider yourself an eco-poet?

A: I believe so. When I write, I often draw deeply from the natural world. I also write about my own experiences that are connected to eco-living – this includes living over 15 years on a permaculture farm, raising goats, harvesting mushrooms, doing land restoration, and building a cob house with a living roof, etc. Ianto Evans, founder of the Cob Cottage Co. – along with his book The Hand-Sculpted House – has been a great influence on me. Poets who I believe are eco-poets who have also influenced me are Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver, Jane Hirshfield, WS Merwin, and Seamus Heaney.

Q: Does Portugal or the Azores show up in your poetry?  Can you share a passage?

A: Yes, more often now than before I traveled to Lisbon and the Azores. I’ll share part of the poem fado which first appeared in Crannóg and subsequently in my bilingual book dentro do som/inside the sound: 


the Portuguese guitarist soaks

in a bathtub on a rooftop

pours himself another glass 

of vinho verde


salutes twilight’s last bawling gull

in a sky heavy with clouds


orange earth tones of rooftop tiles

give way to darkening blues of cobbled streets


the guitarist can hear café chairs 

scuffling, the alley below

with laughter and voices

and ice clanking in glasses


garlic and salt rise into the belly of air

octopus sizzles on the grill ….



Millicent Borges Accardi, a Portuguese-American writer, is the author of four poetry collections, most recently Through Grainy Landscape, 2021 (inspired by Portuguese writings) and Quarantine Highway.

Her awards include fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Fulbright, CantoMundo, Creative Capacity, California Arts Council, Foundation for Contemporary Arts (Covid grant). Yaddo, Fundação Luso-Americana (Portugal), and the Barbara Deming Foundation, “Money for Women.” 

She also curates the popular Kale Soup for the Soul reading series.

Follow Us

facebook twitter