Interview: Cassandra de Alba

Image by Eleanor Leonne Bennett

We talk to Cassandra de Alba about written and spoken poetry, and about her poems in Neon #31.

“At The Science Fair Of Your Heart” and “Sever” both have a dream-like quality to them. Have you ever written anything based on your dreams? Do you think dreams are relevant to real life?

I do try to capture the surrealist quality of dreams in my work, the juxtaposition of seemingly random elements with a hidden cohesion. “Sever” is actually the dream I had the night before my father died–it’s a true story, or as true as memories of dreams can be. I think of dreams as my brain letting off steam and processing the day’s events, often in a way my waking mind can’t.

“Legends” is perhaps the most realist of your three poems. Was it inspired by real events? What lead you to write it?

“Legends” is not a true story at all–it was inspired by the way a rumour grows in a small town or a close-knit community, similar to how a fire spreads.

You mention in your bio that you’ve read poetry in twelve different states. Can you tell us a bit more about that?

In the winter of 2010-2011 I went on tour with three friends down the East Coast of the United States. We performed in coffee shops, converted warehouses, and on one occasion with a hardcore band in a venue called The Fallout Shelter underneath a bowling alley. It was a fantastic experience to share a stage with poets whose work I respect and perform for a different (and I do mean different!) audience every night.

What about reading out your work in general? Is there a difference between poetry that is meant to be read and poetry that is meant to be heard? Have you performed the poems published in Neon before, and if so what kind of response did you get?

I started writing seriously after being exposed to the spoken word/poetry slam scene at Hampshire College, where I went for undergrad, so I’m always very conscious of a how a line sounds when it’s said aloud. That being said, I’m primarily concerned with how a poem functions on page–I’m obsessed with getting the line breaks just right, which doesn’t translate to the performance of the piece. I do feel that reading work out loud is an essential step in the editing process and can lead to new insights about what a poem is trying to do. For me, there’s no distinction between poetry meant to be read and poetry meant to be heard–a truly successful poem should work both ways. I’ve performed all of these poems before and have gotten positive responses, although it’s rare that someone goes out of their way to tell you they dislike a piece you read!

Is your work available to read anywhere else on the internet? Do you have a website where readers can find out more about you?

I have poems in Amethyst Arsenic, Red Lightbulbs, and The Bakery that can all be read online. I don’t have a website yet, but I do post about poetry and things that inspire me at outsidewarmafghans.tumblr.com.

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Cassandra de Alba lives in Somerville, MA with two roommates and a cat named Roger Mindfucker. She’s read poetry on stage in at least twelve different states, wishes on every shooting star for another season of Rock Of Love, and once sold a scone to Kevin Bacon.