Nancy Posey, Review of Jessie Carty’s “Amateur Marriage”
by Nancy Posey
Finishing Line (2012)
Carty’s new chapbook recalls those early days of marriage, the starter home decorated in Early Married style, with both partners making a place for themselves simultaneously in the home and in the larger world beyond their threshold.
These poems convey an awareness of that cozy contradiction of marriage– becoming one while retaining individual identities, played out through sharing of time, or as described in “The Living Room,” the sharing of household property– a television bought when the old one “flatlined” before the Superbowl, the “replacement ” couch, a refinished coffee table–and sharing even debt, second mortgages and student loans.
In”Housewife in Training,” the speaker is poised between a sense of accomplishment, noting, “My house looks very / polite today,” and the recognition that the simple chore of baking a quiche would undo the housework, especially, she notes, “for a dish only I will eat.”
Much of the speaker’s time is spent at home alone not only tending to the house, but writing. Carty’s diction evokes images like those found in e. e. cummings’ poem “She being Brand,” as the speaker in “The Homemaker” feels herself “downshift. . .try[ing] not / to strip the gears,” beginning to learn to interpret the house’s subtle noises signaling hunger and loneliness.
The tone of the poems shifts with the emotional roller coaster of early marriage, from the light humor of “Preferences,” with the speaker making surreptitious changes in her shopping and cooking, despite her awareness of husband’s preferences to the contrary, pleased that he rarely registers the switch, to the somber, even jaded tone of “7 Steps Towards a Trial Separation,” from the husband’s perspective of the most common day-to-day conflicts–“the ridiculously flowered plates she insisted on registering / for in a 12 place setting” or his “beer related T-shirts” she discards.
As a writer, the speaker views married life in varying contexts: In “Ars Poetica,” as a sonnet, with its “practical abba pattern that repeats with a ‘not now’ ‘a headache’ ‘not now’ ‘ a back ache'”; as a physics equation in “W=MG,” as the couple “invent [ their] own / inertia, not controlled / by the speed of light.”
Dreaming of parenthood, the speaker in the poems seems most wistful, looking ahead in “If I Had aSon,” and acknowledging that part of the dream not yet fulfilled in “Holiday Sweater,” recalling her list of goals at seventeen: “college, a husband, three children, a / mini-van, volunteering at church / 2 out of 5 is this life.”
Throughout Amateur Marriage, Carty maintains a consistency in her style and voice while playing with the many contradictions encountered in negotiating the shifting balances of marriage, particularly in the early days or years. Her artful selection of details draw readers in for a closer examination of the subtle revelations.