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LOUISIANA POETS AND POETRY: JULIE KANE

by Robert "Bob" Bussey

There are a few phrases to describe Julie Kane: Louisiana Poet Laureate from 2011 to 2013; Professor Emeritus Northwestern State University; Fulbright Scholar to Lithuania; winner of LSU’s Academy of American Poets Prize, but I like to think of her as a modern-day poet of “real life events,” someone whose poetry you can read, understand, and relate to. Not some arcane writer whose writings you will read just once and then put on a shelf to gather dust, never to see the light of day again.

I was able to track down Julie in the town she calls home, Natchitoches, Louisiana, and sit her down long enough to critically pick her poetic brain. Even though she hails from the New England area of the USA, she has lived in Natchitoches for the past 20 years or so, after having lived in New Orleans for a considerable amount of time. We discussed four of her poems: “Used Book,” “Particle Physics,” “Kissing the Bartender,” and “Maraschino Cherries,” as well as other aspects of her journey as a poet/writer/author. Turns out they all had one thing in common: they all relate real-life events in her life.

So, when I asked her about, “The summer we kissed across the bar, I felt sixteen at thirty-six,” she smiled, giggled somewhat, and revealed that she and a bartender in New Orleans had a summertime romance. That was back in the late 1980’s. You know, one of those romances that will only last for a few months, and then you will each go your separate ways. But one of those romances that completely recharges your batteries for years to come. She artfully sums up the romance in the last sentence of the poem: “Summer went by like a shooting star.” Something I think most of us can relate to. Something so easily, and artfully, set out.

She describes her poetry as telling truths about us that are not always positive or pleasant, but at other times, quite positive, quite romantic, and even quite humorous. Being “frank” or being truthful or being blunt about life events … Not hiding from reality.

She was strongly influenced by other poets who were, at that time in the 70’s, very open about what was happening
in their lives. Something that had rarely been touched upon so openly, bluntly, and frankly before. Subjects that had been “taboo” in earlier times. To that end, most of her poems are about relationships, good or bad or something in-between.

A classic Kane example is set out in the poem “Men Who Love Redheads.” It deals with men who are attracted to redheads, and she is one. The lines set out a sexual frankness about men who are attracted to redheads, and the reaction of redheads to them. Another real-life event or a conclusion drawn having lived the life of a redhead for many years, you will have to ask her.

Another poem we discussed; “Used Book” was also a real-life event for her. It is autobiographical. She really did go into a used bookstore while living in New Orleans during a rain and came upon a chapbook (Two Into One; London: Only Poetry Press, 1982) that she had authored but had been out of print since 1983. And, to her surprise, contained inside the book
cover was the name of a man with whom she had been deeply in love at one time. Even more unusual was the fact that the book had only 200 or 300 copies published, and here she was staring at one of them many years later (well after 1983). Luck or ill luck, fate, or happenstance, it still happened. And, she admitted, she bought the used book and still has it.

In this day and age of computers, iPhones, iPads, and countless other digital devices, Julie still likes to write her poetry on paper. The seed ideas might swirl around inside her for a period of time before she starts to set anything down on paper, but paper it is. Eventually, the poem claws its way to the surface and then it is time to let it out and onto paper, becoming a first draft. The poem often becomes therapeutic once it comes to the surface. During the writing process she often edits as she writes and uses “stacks” of paper to end up with a final product. While she sets up a scheduled time when she works on prose, that is not the case with poetry. While the seed of the poem may circulate inside her for a period of time, the actual start of the writing is not routine, not scheduled, and often quite spontaneous. But once into writing a poem, the editing process also gets involved. Often this means putting the poem aside for a while, and then going back to it with “fresh eyes, a more critical eye, an editor’s eye.” Julie’s poems are best heard spoken, although they are also pretty darn good just read with a glass of wine in hand.

Julie’s next performance is on November 4, 2023, when she will be participating in a Zoom reading involving The Poetry Buffet: An Anthology of New Orleans Poetry, just out from New Orleans Poetry Journal Press.

Julie is currently working on another poetry book, entitled Naked Ladies: New and Selected Poems (forthcoming from LSU Press in Spring 2025). You can find out more about Julie, her poetry, and her publications at https://www.juliekanepoet.com or simple by running her name in an internet search. All her books are listed on her website and links to buying the books can be found there.

 

Robert Bussey is a local attorney and poet who has resided in CENLA since 1986.

 

 

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