Jessie Carty on Writing Narrative Poems

Poet and teacher Jessie Carty is author of a collection of primarily narrative poems, Paper House, as well as two poetry chapbooks, At the A & P Meridiem and The Wait of Atom. She is also founder and editor of the online journal, Referential Magazine.

We asked Jessie about her poetic influences, her experiences editing a literary journal, and her advice for beginning poets.

A Conversation with Jessie Carty

Q: How has your poetry evolved over time? What have been your most important influences?

A: I have been writing poetry, in one form or another, even before I learned to write because I liked to make up songs for myself. I hope my writing has changed a lot since those early attempts at rhyme! As a high school and undergrad writer, I hated revision but I’ve grown to love the process of peeling away at a poem until the real poetry appears. What I find interesting about my writing is how it has always tended toward the story, the narrative no matter how much I play with free verse over form or surrealism over the everyday.

Early on, I was actually influenced more by fiction. I LOVED to read and my mother would let my siblings and I stay up passed our bedtime if we were reading. The first poetry I remember reading, outside of Mother Goose and Dr. Seuss, was Robert Louis Stevenson. I still love his work. As a student, I loved poets such as Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens, lots of the classical stand bys especially Yeats and Blake but as I started reading outside of the classroom and then into the graduate classroom, I fell in love with contemporary poets although I still have a soft spot for Elizabeth Bishop.

Q: Could you tell us something about your new collection, Paper House?

A: Paper House is my first full length poetry collection. It was released in March of 2010 by Folded Word Press. I was thrilled to be their first full length poetry book as well. They had previously published my 2nd chapbook in 2009. Paper House is a collection of 64, mostly narrative poems that recount a young girl as she progresses from a childhood in a shaky home to young adult hood in a home of her own. A better home? Have to read to decide!

Q: In addition to writing poetry, you are editor of an online literary magazine, Referential. Has reviewing poetry submissions caused you approach your own poetry differently in any way? Are there certain common types of flaws that cause you to reject poems submitted to the magazine? What kinds of submissions would you like to see more often?

A: If you are a writer and you have a chance to work as an editor: DO IT! Sometimes it is hard for us, as writers, to see the errors and/or clichés in our own writing, but we readily notice them in the work of others. What is that old saying: You hate most in others what you hate about yourself? The biggest issues I see with poems I reject is that they fail to say something new. I don’t mean you can’t speak about common topics like love, death or taxes but you need to do so with a voice that is unique, with words I would never have thought to put together.

Since our magazine has a theme, of sorts (the whole referral hook), I’d really like to see more submissions that actually appear to have read the guidelines...

Q: Could you offer some advice for new poets about publishing their work?

A: Before you start submitting your work, find someone you trust to be a reader. They don’t have to be overly cruel but you definitely don’t want them to just say they love everything!

Q: What is a piece of advice that you wish you'd received when you'd started writing poetry?

A: Develop a community. Get out there and read other poets. Meet other poets. Poetry is a tradition: join it.

Click here to visit Jessie Carty's author page at Folded Word.

Interview about Narrative Poems - Next Steps

Did you enjoy this interview with Jessie Carty about her narrative poems? You might also like our interview with Michael Klam about performance poetry.

Read more about narrative poems and how to write poetry.

Browse writing prompts to get ideas for narrative poems.

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