Review of Jessie Carty's PAPER HOUSE

Jessie Carty. Folded Word Press,  $12 paperback (110p) ISBN 978-0-9778167-4-3

The book-length debut from author Jessie Carty comes in the form of Paper House, a collection of 64 narrative poems published by Folded Word. This is also the first book-length title from Folded Word, and the result of this pairing is something quite special and worth re-visiting.

Despite the title, there is nothing flimsy about Paper House whatsoever. Bookmarked by two poems that share the collection’s title, Paper House opens with a detached portrayal of a family in a literal house of paper. The poem succeeds wonderfully in setting a slightly ominous tone of childhood neglect and precariousness that carries throughout.

“Dad lies on the couch wearing boxers.
black and white can’t show

his cigarette dripping red-tipped ash
onto the carpet, forming a hole.” (Paper House, pg. 2)

Carty shows us the way through the eyes of a nameless narrator, a young girl growing up in southern, working class America, a place where men drive big rigs, women work low-paying jobs, and children wrap themselves in hand-me-downs. It’s a place where alcohol provides the quick escape, and where cigarettes offer flickers of hope to worn bodies who often forget what hope means.

How many tickets do we have? I ask
as I give her the box of cigarettes.
She hands me the coupon book,

165. I scan the catalog. I
find the AM/FM portable radio. I
hear a match strike against

the edge of the table.” (Gift Catalog, pg. 46)

Carty beautifully captures the innocence of our narrator in this world with an objectivity that never stoops to judge: This is her world, a child’s world, and in the face of parental neglect she continues to grow and learn, regardless of her surroundings.

In this sense, Paper House is an affirmation of the power of a child’s imagination and unquenchable curiosity. And it’s this very power that allows our narrator to push forward into adulthood while never truly shrugging the burden of her past, not because she doesn’t want to, but because she doesn’t need to.

She carries the memories of her family and childhood friends, her explorations of the woods, of lakes, and of her own body as she matures. She carries these things in her heart and in boxes tucked into closets, and she does so with a quiet acceptance that may not necessarily lighten the load, but that gives her the strength to shoulder it.

Beautifully crafted by Jessie Carty, and wonderfully produced by Folded Word, Paper House certainly deserves the security provided by the walls of any home. I highly recommend this collection. (March, 2010)

Purchase Paper House HERE.

Reviewer bio: Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel FREIGHT. Visit his website at