Stacy R. Nigliazzo is an emergency room nurse. Her debut poetry collection Scissored Moon was released by Press 53 last fall, and has been named a finalist for the 2013 Julie Suk Prize for Best Poetry Book (Jacar Press) and the 2014 Texas Institute of Letters First Book Award. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals includingJAMA, Yale Journal for Humanities in Medicine, Third Space (Harvard Medical School), Annals of Internal Medicine, and Annals of Emergency Medicine. Her poem “Relic” was a finalist for the 2012 Marica and Jan Vilcek Poetry Prize. She reviews poetry for the American Journal of Nursing and the Bellevue Literary Review. In addition to her R.N. degree, she holds a B.S. in psychology from Texas A&M and has been recognized by Elsevier for nursing excellence.
Loren Kleinman (LK): Can you talk about your title Scissored Moon. How did you come up with it? Talk about the significance of “scissors,” “the moon” and your association with the medical field?
Stacy R. Nigliazzo (SRN): The title was contrived from the following line in the poem “The Smell of Burning Matches”: The sky cracks / and the scissored moon cries. This poem focuses on a woman who receives an ominous diagnosis after a CT scan. She explains the doctor’s words to her husband and a thunderstorm ensues, foreshadowing the trials to come. I chose the word scissored as an allusion to possible surgery, as well as symbolism for the often harsh nature of cancer treatment. The moon was intended to be a metaphor for the waxing and waning nature of illness, as well as the idea that something bigger than her feels the weight of her diagnosis and responds with sorrow, weeping tears of rain.
LK: You dedicate this collection to your mother, whose illness and death inspired you to become a nurse. What inspired you to become a poet?
SRN: I suppose it’s in my blood, much like my dark hair and tendency to freckle after a sunburn. I bought my first manual typewriter as a child at a garage sale and the poems quickly followed. I remember sifting through the dictionary like an archeologist on the hunt for new and interesting words. I wrote diligently up until my freshman year of college, then abruptly stopped. This was for no particular reason, other than the ordinary demands of everyday life. Fifteen years later, after being licensed as a registered nurse, a friend gave me an anthology of stories and poems written by healthcare professionals. I was instantly snared all over again and began penning new poems. I contacted a few accomplished nurse poets early on (namely Judy Schaefer, who wrote the foreword for Scissored Moon, and Cortney Davis) and received overwhelming support and encouragement to keep writing.
LK: Your collection takes the reader through the many aspects of being a nurse: diseases, symptoms, syndromes, pedagogy, patients, etc. Is your poetry based on truth or your perception of truth in relationship to these aspects? How authentic can readers expect this collection to be?
SRN: The encounters detailed in the book are based on actual people and events, though not on any specific incident or patient. One must always be mindful of another’s right to privacy, hence, I chose to present composite sketches of true-to-life events, except with regard to the poems about my mother, which are wholly authentic. When I first began working in the emergency room, I noticed that I walked roughly three steps slower than my preceptors. This collection represents ten years of quickening my pace, leading with my own steps, and sometimes walking alone through the din of illness, trauma, death, and recovery.
LK: In the poem “In Situ,” you write: “He revealed her/diagnosis.” Talk about your use of the line here. How do you capture the essence of the feeling within such a small space? Also, can you explain the purpose for leaving “diagnosis” on its own line?
SRN: It is always my goal to be concise. Charles Simic is my favorite poet and he is masterful at capturing whole worlds in just a few lines. His work has inspired my quest for brevity. The line you reference reads: He revealed her / diagnosis. I structured it in this way to emphasize that much more than just her diagnosis is revealed. A person’s response to such news often opens up hidden dimensions of personality. In this case, the woman refuses treatment, living and dying on her own terms. The word diagnosis stands alone to illuminate the seriousness of her condition, as well as the idea that it is something that must be faced alone, whatever the outcome.
LK: You end with the poem “In my first year.” Why did you decide to end with what came prior to your nursing experience? It’s as if we go backwards or make a return to where it all started so untouched, so innocently, before you were immersed in the profession. Why did you decide to structure the collection this way?
SRN: For this, I must credit my tireless and brilliant editor, Tom Lombardo. He suggested ending the collection on this note, and I think it was a wise decision. It is a return to the innocence and astonishment that is the hallmark of every nurse on the cusp of this fascinating and sometimes heartbreaking career, bringing the collection full circle. I remember that girl very well and hope some small measure of her sense of wonder and empathy will always remain with me.
LK: What’s next for Stacy R. Nigliazzo? Both in poetry and the health profession?
SRN: I’ve considered pursuing higher education in both fields. Perhaps one day. For now, I intend to keep writing and to keep nursing, and to reap the rewards contained therein–and they are many!