Poet, literary editor and educator Heather Lang Cassera was intent on creating a modern-day coming-of-age story. In her new chapbook, I Was the Girl With the Moon-Shaped Face, Cassera’s familiar world is filled with desert imagery, youthful nostalgia and a relatable realm that reflects on memories both delightful and pained.
“I’m especially interested in the implied narratives of objects and other static images,” Cassera says. By recalling flickers of memory in detail, she creates an emotional narrative that explores universal themes, from sibling bonds and youthful innocence to the painful conflicts of relationships gone awry, or even a death in the family.
Drawing from her own experience—her sister died unexpectedly when Cassera was a young adult—the poet also explores how to overcome difficult and challenging experiences, focusing on “the small moments of comfort or beauty that we can find even when that seems overwhelming,” Cassera says. “It’s largely about finding those moments of comfort or smaller moments of humor amongst a sea of grief.”
Like trying to piece together a puzzle with no finite end, each poem was edited and curated to tell a story, Cassera says, resulting in laborious nights tacking poems to walls or sprawling pages on the floor to string together a complete collection. “I realized I had all these different pieces from across a few years of writing that spoke to each other in different ways,” Cassera says. “So I started to play with those and see what conversations they might have with each other.”
At first, Cassera was concerned the material might be too dark, but I Was the Girl With the Moon Shaped Face (Zeitgeist Press, $9) also ruminates on emotions in a playful way, like in “18,” when we find the girl with the moon-shaped face is now an adult in couples therapy, fixating on wanting a fresh, new hairdo.
By using something as simple as a haircut, Cassera explores the need to change the physical or external when the suffering is internal, a familiar if not uncomfortable anecdote told with a sardonic, comical beat. “I want a haircut that makes my husband stop wanting to have an affair … Can they take a little off the insides? I want a haircut that makes the voices stop.”
Cassera says she wrote Girl With the Moon-Shaped Face with the intention of reading selected works aloud, which she’ll do at Public Works Coffee Bar on November 16. The event will also feature readings from poets Jennifer Battisti, Angela M. Brommel, former Clark County Poet Laureate Bruce Isaacson (who also runs Zeitgeist Press) and more.
Most importantly, Cassera hopes people are left with a stronger connection to poetry and how it connects us to the world at large. “There’s so much symbolism in our everyday lives,” Cassera says. “And if we listen to what our messy heart-brains are telling us as we observe them, we can explore truths and find comforts.”