Paper House by Jessie Carty

Paper House by Jessie Carty

Reviews, Vol. 4.2, June 2010
Folded Word, 2010
ISBN: 978-0-9778167-4-3
Paperback, 85 pp., $12
Review by Cynthia Reeser

Paper House is Jessie Carty’s first full-length poetry collection. Here, Carty makes her début as a poet who proves an ability to distill a sometimes less-than-desirable upbringing in a controlled voice. It is this voice that allows the images it describes to form meaning in spite of things, and that gradually becomes evident as the driving force behind her collection. Carty’s imagery has a way of housing the unexpected and the poignant without—as might be expected of the subject matter alone—focusing on negativity. Carty deftly provides thematic and visual balance in her work, most notably through use of color.

Carty’s use of color finds its way into her work, not only in poems like the “Little” series (“Little Red,” “Little Yellow,” “Little Black,” “Little Grey”) and others like “The Red Voice,” but also through metaphor-rich poems like “An Experiment”:

in a glass
blue food coloring

vegetable veins
from green to blue

not death

Other pieces, like “June,” celebrate the joy and kiddie-pool reverie of “Each new beach float [that] smells like plastic” and the “hint of chlorine” from last year’s bathing suit. Not just the imagery, but the overall sensory level of “June” captures the reader with its immediacy, and then, like many other of Carty’s poems, takes a surprise turn at the end. At “June’s” conclusion, the color theme continues. A parent boiling a pot of crab claws offers some obscure, evocative wisdom: “As the pot quiets, you say, ‘Their shells turn red. They flake white on the inside.'”

Childhood is—despite its non-participatory fathers, destructive tornadoes, tragically painful events, and other moments of darkness—a celebration of life “As the Child Sees It” (hence, the vivid imagery and color) and of the first discovery of language, poetry, and story. The language itself, perhaps in reference to the persistent magic of such new findings, yields the unexpected, which erupt in the form of surprises in the imagery as well, as in “Little Grey,” a poem that takes the reader to the poet’s mother’s tombstone. A relative who maintains the grave once

[…] sent us a picture
of the tombstone

maybe as a way to note
the crack in the marble

that she wasn’t there
to prevent

Carty also proves herself a poet’s poet, with her sensitivity to line breaks (as seen above) and occasional use of enjambment. Her poetry does what it should, and the overall effect of this collection is of one designed to record a life and the memories that shaped it, for posterity; this poetry credits each scene and image with its own enduring elegy.

Carty’s work is sensitive, and forthright, and thoughtful, and often joyous. “Driving,” appropriately, has a rambling, playful rhythm; “Babysitter” has an enduring sweetness. And “Paper House,” the title piece, indicates the final step in a process of transformation that evokes the beginning of the story (the life described throughout) by evincing its present-ness, and by providing a snapshot of how far things have come in spite of its nod to the relative fragility of everything we believe is solid. Homes and mothers can be here one day, and the next day not, but that is no reason, the poet seems to tell us, not to enjoy them while they are here. “Paper House” calls up the present-day of the child we’ve vicariously watched grow up, and connotes a sense that Paper House is an evolution that has been a colorful process, a realistic one—sometimes light, sometimes dark, and sometimes filled with all the colors the eye can behold.

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* by Simon Perchik

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