Jan/Feb 2010  •   Reviews & Interviews

An Interview with Jessie Carty

Interview by Tom Lombardo

Jessie Carty's poems and non-fiction have appeared in publications such as The Main Street Rag, Iodine Poetry Journal, and The Northville Review. She is the author of two published chapbooks, At the A & P Meridiem (Pudding House, 2009) and The Wait of Atom (Folded Word Press, 2009). Her first full length collection Paper House will be released by Folded Word Press in March, 2010. She is also the editor of Shape of a Box, YouTube's first literary magazine. Jessie received her MFA from Queens University of Charlotte. You can find her around the web, but most often at her blog. A lifelong North Carolina resident, she grew up in and around Perquimans County, which she was told is from the Native American for "Land of the Beautiful Women."


The Wait of Atom

It wasn't that he wouldn't wait for her
or not even that he didn't want
to wait for her, he just couldn't
stand still. She couldn't stand it,
the way his eyes became nearly crossed,
how he jangled the change in his pocket.
She'd complained before.

To keep his face from registering
annoyance, he began mentally listing
the noble gases by weight: lowest to highest,
using his hands in his pockets to count each one.
He could do this without moving his lips.
His face relaxed even though she was still
transferring her personal items
from a brown purse to a black one.

She had explained, on more than one occasion,
how her purse had to match her shoes. How
his belt should match his shoes and he'd learned
to keep his eyes focused on a point
just over her shoulder while he let his brain
scan the periodic table of elements.


TL     Tell me how your YouTube-based literary journal Shape of a Box came about? What was the inspiration? Why did you choose YouTube as the publishing platform?

JC     I have always been interested in editing, but since I don't live in a major literary hub, I didn't really think I had access to working with a magazine so I thought I might start my own. I knew, because of expenses, it needed to be online, but I kept thinking I wanted to do something different. I had started a YouTube account in November of 2007 for personal posting of family videos and poems, and I loved the site. I realized, "Wait! I could publish a literary magazine via YouTube." It is free, and I had encountered quite a few writers who were posting vlogs, so I thought it would be a easy and accessible venue.

TL     What does the name Shape of a Box mean?

JC     I had a hard time coming up with the name for the magazine. I wanted something simple and since I was using YouTube the image of the little box you watch the videos in kept coming back to me. I decided the word Box had to be in there somewhere so I really just kept playing around with names until I found one that was available on YouTube so user name "shapeofabox" was born.

TL     How many issues of Shape of a Box have you published on You Tube?

JC     I publish one issue a week and as I type this I just published issue 62 (December 15th 2009). I have enough material already accepted to get the publication through at least March and I am hoping to open a new call for submissions as soon as I line up some more editorial help!

TL     What's your maximum number of views?

JC     A video entitled Bacon and Whiskey by Kristy Athens has 2,120 views so far.

TL     In each issue of Shape of a Box, you have video, imagery, graphics, or props. Tell us how that all comes about, and how you might select props, graphics, images to go with the reading.

JC     The process of making each issue has really evolved. When I first began publishing the issues, I primarily just read the pieces, trying to use different venues go enhance the viewing experience, but as I became more proficient with editing audio and video together as well as using Creative Commons and Public Domain music and images, I started making more complex videos, although I still like to keep them relatively simple. Each piece is very different so it is hard to describe the exact process, but I will use an example from my seventh issue, where I published a short story titled "Old Baby" by Leslie What. For that video, the author provided her own audio track as well as background music composed by her son. I also sent the story to an artist who wanted to collaborate. They provided several pictures which I then synced up to the video. When I didn't have enough pictures, I typed text onto the screen to show between the art work shots. That video was a learning experience, and in my second year of publication, I asked each contributor to provide something for their videos whether it is audio or the willingness to track down photography to go along with it.

TL     What problems have you encountered with Shape of a Box that you had not anticipated?

JC     One of the biggest problems I had in the first year was that people would not respond to requests to finalize their work, whether it was because of editing or something they were supposed to provide. Given how much work it takes to get published, I was surprised that people would not follow through. I also knew it would be a lot of work, but I am still amazed at how much work it does take to put out each issue. I had an assistant editor for a while, but she went on to Twitter zines and taking over print publications for Folded Word Press so I am currently by myself.

TL     Has anyone else started a literary journal on YouTube?

JC     So far I haven't seen another literary magazine on YouTube. I am finding more and more people who self-publish, and I enjoy what Mel Bosworth is doing on his YouTube page, where he reads excerpts from other writers or short pieces by those writers. Does it qualify as a literary magazine? I don't know, but I love it. He even asked for a poem by me which you can hear him read.

TL     Where do you see Shape of a Box being in a couple of years?

JC     I thought I was going to have to stop Shape of a Box after the first year, just given the time involved, but then I decided to give it another chance and change my submission guidelines and go for year two. I will say, however, I'm having a hard time doing it all on my own. I am sending out requests to find others who will be able to help and/or possibly take over the project. I'd really like to help make videos, but doing all of the management of the site is something I'd like to move away from. I enjoy the video making and some editing, but I'd really like to do more of the video work in the future. My dream would be that someone would take over the helm and let me putter around helping to make some videos. I'd really like to see a bigger viewership/readership.

TL     What was the inspiration for your chapbook The Wait of Atom?

JC     I wrote a poem called "Oxygen is Obvious," which had a second line of "like Britney Spears." I read it at an open mike and it was well received so I decided I would try to write some more poems involving scientific principles. I found each poem still having something to do with a natural element so I attempted all the elements on the periodic table with only 19 poems finally staying, and not even the one that started the whole thing!, in the final version of the chapbook.

TL     Please explain its title, and why "wait" instead of "weight"?

JC     After I had written quite a few poems based on elements, I wrote a poem just on a character whom I decided to name Atom. I was hoping it wouldn't come across as too cheeky, but I had also read a poem by Emily Dickinson around the same time that used that spelling instead of Adam so I felt inspired. After I had written the poem, it was so much about waiting and the give and take in relationships that I decided to go with "The Wait of Atom" as the name of the poem and ultimately the name of the collection because I thought it played well off of the idea of "wait" and "weight" as in atomic measures.

TL     Your book, < i>At the A and P Meridiem also has a structure to it. Would you explain that structure? How did it come about? What influence does it have on the poems? Are they a coherent unit? What's the message for the reader?

JC     In January 2007, I began the MFA program at Queens University of Charlotte. I found out a bit late that I was going, so I had to rush to put poems together for the workshops. I almost always title my poems after I have written them out, and I had this one that I was having a great deal of trouble titling. I decided to title it 7pm. My workshop group thought that title seemed to give a sense of that time of the day. That stuck with me, and I found myself writing other poems that gave me a sense of a specific hour. Then I was going back through old poems and finding others (with bad titles) that could be re-titled to an hour of the day. I had about 20 hours of the day covered, so I wrote 4 more and began to see a chapbook forming. The poems do not necessarily link to each other in anyway except that I feel they say something about the life of someone at that specific hour of the day. They are not necessarily about any one person or place. I just liked the idea of taking this different little pieces and putting them together so that you could spend an "hour" with a very different scene for a whole "day."

TL     How did you come to write poetry?

JC     It is hard for me to remember a time I wasn't writing poetry. I wrote poems in school when I was in the 4th grade. I took creative writing as a freshman in high school and then in college and eventually into graduate school. I think my love for poetry developed out of a love of reading. I read in a variety of genres but the first poetry I fell in love with were Nursery Rhymes, Ronald Dahl, Robert Louis Stevenson and anything that came out in Highlights-type magazines for kids.

TL     Do you consider yourself a writer or an editor first?

JC     I am definitely a writer first. I enjoy helping other people with their writing, but I want to do so more as a teacher, really, than as an editor. I think I am moving more towards wanting to do less with editing and more with teaching as the years progress.

TL     I hear a full-length collection is coming out in 2010.

JC     Yes. My first full length collection Paper House will be released by Folded Word Press in late March 2010. It is a much revised version of my MFA thesis which follows a girl trying to define love, loss, and home for herself.

TL     What poets are you reading now?

JC     I only have a few books in my waiting to read stack but right now I am reading a the chapbook Little Oceans by Tony Hoagland, the full length collection What Learning Leaves by Taylor Mali as well as off and on reading The Collected Works of Emily Dickinson. Oh, and of course, online and print journals with most recent reads being online at PANK and in print New South.

TL     Who are your all-time favorite poets?

JC     Wow, that is such a hard question! I'd have to say Margaret Atwood is still very high on my list as well as classic writers such as William Blake who gave me a foundation as a poet. I also have quite the poetic crushes on writers such as Matthea Harvey and A. Van Jordan at the present time.


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