Interview with Ani Bachan

Rappahannock Review Poetry Editors: Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day both occasionally land on the same day, but obviously act as contradictory forces. In combining these, was there anything in particular from your background that you were drawing on?

Ani Bachan: As a recovering Catholic who usually observes Lent, Ash Wednesday signifies the beginning of a period of restraint and self-regulation. The Lenten promises we make often surround food, with many choosing to fast until Easter but most opting to give up a single vice like coffee or chocolate. Valentine’s day is the true opposite: an indulgence in desire and love, a day for the obvious and unrestrained. Chocolates, candy hearts, a candlelit dinner—food is our chosen vehicle to express love and longevity. In both cases our consumption is directly associated with our devotion, whether that be to the loves of our lives or another power.

RR:   In “Ash Wednesday Valentine,” one of the lines we loved the most is “hunger is learned before restraint is taught”; is that meant to be in regards to the biblical figure, Eve eating the apple, consumerism, ecology? Or is it something more personal or microcosmic?

AB: More personal, but what a wonderful connection you’ve made! I’m studying to be a midwife and as such have witnessed brand-new, angry, honest hunger being experienced for the first time by tiny humans. Hunger is extraordinarily human—I think of Jesus in John’s gospel announcing his thirst from the cross. As animals we have certain objective needs, but as people we practice ways to avoid or alter these needs based on various expectations and commitments. I guess with this line I am trying to figure out if it is more human to eat or to not eat.

RR: We interpreted the lines, “I hurry to be close to you again, to live / The forty lifetimes laid between us,” as being about a loss of youth. How has your own relationship with age and time contributed, if at all, to the poem?

AB: The true inspiration for this poem was the Stanford marshmallow experiment and the children who “failed” it. I find the whole premise quite odd—you couldn’t wait to eat a treat as a kid and now you won’t be as competent an adult? My perspective on religion when I was younger was one centered around discipline—denying yourself was holy and would make you a better person. As I’ve aged (and fallen in love) I have mostly let go of this restraint and found divinity in urgent, enthusiastic indulgence.

RR: How has your relationship with religion influenced your writing?

AB: Religion is everywhere in my writing. Catholicism is often brutal, which makes for wonderful devices when writing about big emotions. I especially love to write about the ultimate figures of the bible (Jesus, Mary Magdalene, Judas, etc.) as these extreme archetypes of humanity. Whatever experience or feeling I’m writing about, one of them is probably an expert.

RR: What is your favorite, or least favorite, part of Valentine’s day?

AB: I am a pretty nosy person so my favorite part of Valentine’s day is seeing couples post each other. Who’s still dating, who recently broke up—I’ve gotta know!


Read “Ash Wednesday Valentine” by Ani Bachan in Issue 11.2