Contributor Spotlight:
Interview with Annie Cigic

Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: We are captivated by how “Feasts of Mourning” addresses the speaker’s experience of child loss through such vivid images. How do you approach sensitive material like this?

Annie Cigic: A lot of my poems are about grief and child loss. Oftentimes, I write these types of poems during some of my most vulnerable moments, like when the grief won’t stop punching me in the stomach and I completely disconnect from the world as it is. So, when I’m writing, I approach my work with care and honesty. I’m undeniably connected to the topic, so I am not ill-informed, but I’ve also read so many works on grief, adoption, and child loss to be aware of how it is explored. I stick to my own direct personal experiences, and I do not write for shock value or entertainment. It is an honest exploration and I put everything I have and feel into it. A lot of my personal beliefs surrounding grief play a role too. People always talk about the dimensions of grief or the timeline of grief, but I personally believe everyone experiences grief differently. You cannot put a number or time limit on it. Some of my poems actually do the work of naming my grief because that pressure exists, but it’s not always realistic to define or compare your loss. I also know that I’m not going to get the poem right the first time. I’m constantly revising. Thankfully, I’m surrounded by great writers who read my work and give feedback. “Feasts of Mourning” went through quite a few revisions. I originally wrote this poem in 2018 under a different title! So, this is four years in the making.

RR: The poem intertwines visceral feelings with mundane activities like eating breakfast. What led you to meld this emotional experience with the concrete narrative?

AC: I get so stuck in my daily routine, and the societal pressure to overperform and hide my grief, or the belief that I didn’t earn my grief, but it still shows up nearly every day in the most mundane ways like scrolling through LinkedIn or cooking, which I love to do, but my grief shows up as “what ifs” lately. What if my child was with me? What if I could share my love of cooking and baking with them? What if I had been in a better place with myself and my life? What if people understood? What if, what if, what if. Grief isn’t always late at night crying by yourself in bed. My grief stops me in my tracks sometimes when I’m doing the most basic tasks, and sometimes I move forward with such a force that my emotions are subtle until they’re not. That could be the way I personally manage it at times, which isn’t the best, but what else can you do when your daily obligations are nagging at you, you’ve got judgments from people around you, or you’re told to just move on? I guess that’s what this poem might represent and how I was moved to meld the emotional with the mundane. I felt that I had to move very quickly through my emotions, my decision-making, and so on, but the grief will always be there and it’s more impactful on our lives than what people might realize. 

RR: We noticed that this poem creates momentum through consistent enjambment. How do you make use of form, and especially the line breaks, as you write?

AC: I’ve always admired clever line breaks and dual functions of lines in poetry. While a whole stanza in a poem could be one sentence, I personally think about how each line can function or be interpreted on its own. When I write, I try to make some lines of poetry sit as a complete sentence if it was pulled out of the poem separately. For example, the first line of “Feasts of Mourning” does that. Some of my other poems do more of that work. I also think about how to create natural space for breath when reading a poem out loud. It’s also like balancing between the very broad and the very specific nature of things, like simply trading a feast for another day, or a nurse telling you about losing, or your body tells you something. But the truth is in the specificity that follows those lines: another day I don’t outlive myself, losing a baby, and your body tells you something is missing.  

RR: We saw in your bio that you are a fourth-year Ph.D. candidate in Rhetoric and Writing at Bowling Green State University. Congratulations! Do you have any advice for writers following this educational path?

AC: Thank you! It was important that I joined a program where my creativity would be welcomed, utilized, and celebrated. It is a challenge going from Creative Writing to Rhetoric and Composition. The beauty of Rhetoric and Composition/Writing Studies is how different ways of thinking, passions, skills, and knowledge can be used to reach your personal, professional, and research goals. So, lean into that! Always stick to your roots as a creative writer and thinker. I personally found it helpful to stay connected with a few people so we could talk about program-related things, writing, research, poetry, and life. Building a community of writer friends is important. We all experience imposter syndrome or feel like the odd one out from time to time, but it is truly amazing to see how expansive the field is. You can gain so much interdisciplinary knowledge. If you take this path with the goal of getting an academic job, I do recommend reading up on and understanding the academic job market. But this field can also lead to a lot of alternative academic positions. I’m currently working in project management as a technical writer, and I have been able to rely on a lot of what I learned during my time in the Ph.D. program. If you are a writer following this path, you have more skills and knowledge that can apply to other fields than you might think!

RR: Are you working on any creative projects while pursuing your Ph.D.?

AC: I am still revising my poetry manuscript that I wrote during my M.F.A. I turned the longer manuscript into a chapbook, and I return to it a couple of times a month. It’s a work in progress. I’ve received a couple of consultations and it’s gone through many rounds of revision. Every few months after a set of revisions, I submit it to as many contests as I can. I get positive feedback, but I don’t think it’s there quite yet, but it is my goal to publish it. I still write poetry aside from my chapbook. I’ve started reading more short story collections and personal essay collections. I’m very interested in writing in different genres, so I’ll be slowly moving toward that once my Ph.D. is completed. It’s also another interest of mine to accompany my poems with my own embroidery, which would just be for fun for now, but I’d love to see where that could lead!

Annie Cigic’s work appears in Issue 10.1 here