Untitled Country Review is proud to feature the writing of Jessie Carty, whose debut full-length poetry collection Paper House was released earlier this year by Folded Word. The following poems are reprinted with permission of Carty and Folded Word. An interview with Carty, conducted by Untitled Country Review editor Scot Siegel, follows.
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You woke me with specks of corn starch
still in the ridges of your palms.
In the kitchen we packed warm chicken,
deviled eggs and those little
juice containers shaped like barrels.
We drove towards the coast
but left the highway just before the last bridge
that connects the sound side
to the ocean side. You parked in a dirt
and gravel lot
spiked with weeds and Michelob cans. I
threw my flip-flops
in the back seat before running down the
across the tiny strip of beach
into the still sound water. I practiced
holding my breath
while you twirled in a black inner tube. Above us
on the bridge the cars moved
da duuum da duuuum
Below, in between grew pylons, you lounged
back, the tips of your hair
dunking into the water, connecting
dark to dark
(Paper House, 25; first publication in Journey Without, The Charlotte Writers Club 2009 Anthology)
I let the wolf hold me
felt his teeth
against my teeth
because he came
and I wanted
(Paper House, 52; first publication in Georgetown Review)
We talked about Barbie Dolls and sex.
You got married at sixteen; dropped out.
I went to college for five years, dressed up
in academics while you dealt with a sloppy
boy/husband and worked at McDonald’s.
My mother died and you came to the funeral
in a bone lace dress you had laid away
for your wedding. You didn’t say hello. You
called me later at my studio apartment
where my dolls dust in a box beneath my futon.
You called me from the cement steps
outside your trailer.
We talked about how our names used to rhyme
before you married. How I had been your last
friend to see your father alive. We talked.
We hung up before our conversation
reached the present.
(Paper House, 74)
Piece of me. A Verse.
Crouches in another town.
Waiting. Paw tucked. Come.
(Paper House, 81; first publication in Bear Creek Haiku)
* * *
Jessie Carty received her MFA from Queen’s University of Charlotte and continues to reside in North Carolina. Her writing has appeared in publications such as The Main Street Rag, MARGIE and The Northville Review. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, At the A & P Meridiem (Pudding House, 2009) and The Wait of Atom (Folded Word, 2009). You can find her all around the web, but most often at her blog: http://jessiecarty.com.
* * *
SS: Congratulations on the release of Paper House. Please tell us a little about yourself and how this wonderful debut poetry collection came about.
JC: Thanks Scot! There are poems in Paper House that have their beginnings as far back as poetry workshops I took as an undergrad in the 90's. Many of them sat for a long time but every once in a while I'd take them out to see if I could "find" the real subject of the poem. They really started to take shape when I saw them all together along with new material I began writing as an MFA student from 2007-2009. The final collection is a revised version of my thesis. I originally sent the thesis version out for about six months after I finished my degree but I was starting to feel the drain of the constant rejection. I think if I'd had one nice comment along the way I probably would have continued to send it out in roughly the same form it was in (although, after each rejection, I did try to tweak it). I'm glad that didn't happen though because JS Graustein, who had taken over Folded Word Press, approached me about the manuscript. I was thrilled when I received my contract for publication. Paper House is a much better book because of Jessi. She challenged me. I continued to revise and I even created new poems for the collection.
SS: The vignettes of childhood in Paper House are direct and unapologetic. Some poems, with their references to Little Red Riding Hood, Goldilocks, Hansel and Gretel, simultaneously evoke glee and an undercurrent of darkness. Please tell us about any experiences from your own life, that you are comfortable sharing, that relate to the fairytale characters and inspired individual poems.
JC: The fairytale motif was actually something I didn't realize I was doing until the book was already accepted for publication. As I went back to try and make final decisions about where the poems fit, I saw where new poems would fit. "Little Red" and "While Mom Watches Bewitched" were the two original ones and did draw, in a way, from things I remembered from my own life but from very different events. In the first one I was pulled under at a pool and kissed by a childhood friend. In the second, I am thinking of this terrific doll that I had when I was a kid, as described in the poem, but the actual events surrounding the description are just recreated out of bits of possibility. It is not a specific memory. Many of my poems skirt that line between fiction and non-fiction. Sometimes I think of it as "being inspired by real events" rather than strict memoir poetry.
SS: Untitled Country Review is interested in personal discoveries and how story-telling through poems promotes human development. How did writing Paper House help you better understand your true 'self' and put your past in perspective.
JC: Funny you should pose this particular question to me Scot because writing the poems that make up Paper House definitely helped me figure out a lot of things by myself. I made myself write through tough memories and opinions I had, that I didn't always like to admit I had. I really want people to read Paper House to either find some of their own closure because they had a shaky upbringing themselves or, if they didn't live that kind of life, to empathize with people who have. I knew, for years, I was writing about my life (even though a lot of it is shaped for the poems and is therefore borderline fiction) but it wasn't until I had to put it together in book form for my thesis that I started to see the shape and felt the ability to finally close off writing about that part of my life.
SS: Please say a few words about the book's structure; for example, two different poems by the same title begin and end the book; and, while the sequence appears mostly chronological, there are some deviations, almost like the speaker is guiding the reader through the house and saying, "Hey, over here, I'd like to show something; Look at this celery and food coloring experiment." I think that approach works well for Paper House because the poems are relatively short and the experimental forms add texture to the book. Please comment on structure of Paper House.
JC: I'm glad you commented on the structure, because I had a difficult time putting it together. The first poem was always titled in some variation of Paper House but the final poem was not until very near the end of the revision process. I realized the book was building, roughly, chronologically but more so I wanted the poems to build from one poem to the next so there was a narrative structure to it without it necessarily being this happened at 8am this at 9 etc. On one of the final manuscript readings I noticed that the poems at the end of the book become a bit more adult and a bit more hopeful. I saw the narrator as coming full circle in some ways but more that she was building her own house without denying where she came from. I ended up being very pleased with the structure but it was a hard road to getting there!
SS: What is your next project?
JC: I always seem to have quite a few projects going on, but here are the biggest. I'm writing a lot more prose, mostly personal essays but a few flash fiction pieces in there. I have also started a series of prose poems that I think might be a new book length project. I have a second full length manuscript and a third chapbook circulating to publishers so I constantly have things to send out and revise. I like to stay busy! Thanks for taking the time to pose these questions. I love when an interview really makes me think about my own work and process in a new way. Thanks again!
SS: Thank you for sharing your words.