Julie Kane was born in Boston in 1952 and grew up in Massachusetts, upstate New York, and New Jersey. She studied creative writing under
A. R. Ammons, William Matthews, and Robert Morgan as an undergraduate at Cornell University, graduating with a B.A. in English in 1974
and winning first prize in the Mademoiselle magazine college poetry competition. From Cornell she went on to earn an M.A. in creative
writing from Boston University in 1975; she was one of Anne Sexton’s graduate poetry students at the time of Sexton’s suicide.
From 1975 to 1976, Kane was the first woman to hold the George Bennett Fellowship in Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire.
After moving to New Orleans, Kane became associated with the “Maple Leaf” group of poets who frequented the weekly literary
reading series held at the Maple Leaf Bar on Oak Street—a mecca for musicians as well as writers. Continuing to publish poems in little
magazines, she had two chapbooks of her poetry published in England during this time period: Two Into One, with Ruth Adatia (Only
Poetry Press, 1982) and The Bartender Poems (Greville Press, 1991). Her first full-length poetry collection, Body and Soul, came
out from Pirogue, a New Orleans small press, in 1987.
In 1991, Kane entered the Ph.D. program at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. There she won the Academy of American Poets Prize, judged
by Louise Glück, and the Lewis P. Simpson Award for her dissertation on the villanelle, directed by poet Dave Smith. A literary nonfiction
Vietnam memoir that she co-authored during this time period (Counterpart: A South Vietnamese Naval Officer’s War, with Kiem Do)
came out from the Naval Institute Press in 1998 and was selected as a History Book Club Featured Alternate.
In 1999, Kane received her Ph.D. in English and began teaching at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, where she is now
an associate professor. In 2002, she was a Fulbright Scholar in creative writing at Vilnius Pedagogical University, Lithuania. She has also
been a two-time visiting writer-in-residence at Tulane University. Her second book-length collection of poetry, Rhythm & Booze
(University of Illinois Press, 2003), was selected by Maxine Kumin as a winner in the National Poetry Series. Rhythm & Booze
was also one of four finalists for the Poets' Prize (won by Robert Wrigley for Lives of the Animals), associated with the West Chester
University Poetry Center and the Nicholas Roerich Museum in NYC. A volume of her French-to-English translations of poems by Victor Hugo is
forthcoming from Story Line Press. Kane is also associate editor for 20th-century poetry of the Longman anthology of Southern
literature, Voicesof the American South (2004). Her poems can be found in journals including The Formalist, The Southern Review,
London Magazine, and Feminist Studies, and her scholarly articles on poetry and literature appear in Modern Language Quarterly,
Twentieth Century Literature, Literature/Film Quarterly, Journal of Consciousness Studies, and elsewhere. Two of her poems have been set to
music by composer Libby Larsen and recorded on CDs by the American Boychoir and by mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer.
Three little girls on the morning after,
out in the kitchen poking around
for cherries soaked in whiskey like a bomb
of grown-up secrets. Other times we found,
by Mom’s clip earrings and kicked-off shoes,
blue glass monkeys on swizzle sticks,
doll-sized Oriental parasols,
cocktail napkins with jokes we didn’t get.
Cherries as precious as Burmese rubies:
Once in awhile, while the grown-ups slept,
we ate our fill of cherries from the jar,
but even then we liked the booze ones best.
You have to love them
for the way they make takeoff
jogging a few steps,
then heaving themselves like sacks
of nickels into
the air. Make them wear
mikes and they’d be grunting
like McEnroe lobbing
a Wimbledon serve.
Then there’s the matter of their
feet, which don’t retract
like landing gear nor
tuck up neatly as drumsticks
on a dinner bird,
but instead hang down
like a deb’s size tens from
the hem of her gown.
Once launched, they don’t so
much actively fly as blow
like paper napkins,
so that, seeing white
flare in a roadside ditch, you
think, trash or egret?—
and chances are it’s
not the great or snowy type,
nearly wiped out by
hat plume hunters in
the nineteenth century, but
a common cattle
egret, down from its
usual perch on a cow’s
rump, where it stabs bugs.
Whoever named them
got it right, coming just one
r short of regret.
Kissing the Bartender
The summer we kissed across the bar,
I felt sixteen at thirty-six:
as if you were a movie star
I had a crush on from afar.
My chest was flat, my legs were sticks
the summer we kissed across the bar.
Balancing on the rail was hard.
Spilled beer made my elbows stick.
You could have been a movie star,
backlit, golden, lofting a jar
of juice or Bloody Mary mix
the summer we kissed across the bar.
Over the sink, the limes, as far
as you could lean, you leaned. I kissed
the movie screen, a movie star.
Drinks stayed empty. Ashtrays tarred.
The customers got mighty pissed
the summer we kissed across the bar.
Summer went by like a shooting star.
All summer she twirled
in pearls and satin gowns,
pale as a mushroom
in the attic.
Sometimes her aunt or
her father would hint that
the field of Queen Anne’s lace
at the end of the road
was chock-full of children
her age. Her age
was suddenly uncertain as
the woman’s breath
rising and falling
in an oxygen tent
all summer long.
Nothing to do but wait.
In the stale heat
of the attic, in the rippled
in velvet, in chiffon,
in her mother’s useless clothes:
waiting for her breasts
to blossom and fill
the loose bodice of her grief.
Reasons for Loving the Harmonica
Because it isn’t harmonious;
Because it gleams like the chrome
on a ’57 Chevy’s front grille;
Because it fits in a hobo’s bandanna;
Because it tolerates spit;
a little spit means the music is fervent;
Because it’s easily rigged
to a contraption that frees the human
Because it’s cynical, yet sings;
Because it sings breathing in.
Dead Armadillo Song
I’ve never seen a live
armadillo, but I drive
Route 90, where the shoulder’s
littered with the colder,
deader little critters,
getting stiffer and stiffer.
They seem to have weights
like living-room drapes
in their bottoms, for they lie
with their feet to the sky.
By God, there’s a lot of ‘em,
fat as stuffed ottomans,
World War I tanks snared
in terrorist warfare,
or small coats of armor
whose knights became farmers.
Love Poem for Jake and Ithaca
The bedroom window had a telescope
set up in front; but, other than that,
the room was a typical student’s room:
over the bed, an American flag;
a bookcase made of cinderblocks.
There was only one book of poetry:
Comic Epitaphs from Country Graves.
I knew he wasn’t the man for me,
though he always got up first to toss
our blue jeans on the space heater grille,
there being no heat in the upstairs rooms,
and sometimes he dressed me under the quilt.
I wanted to be a poetess,
pale, with a shock of copper hair,
drinking Jack Daniels on the rocks
and dying too young with love affairs
like Hollywood credits behind my name.
And so I crumpled paper up
and stubbed out Marlboros one by one
on the melting sides of a Styrofoam cup.
He always wanted to show me things
through the telescope: a white-tailed deer
in the field out back; a blizzard sky
into which the barn had disappeared.
I tried not to let my annoyance show.
Sometimes he strapped his snowshoes on.
I remember his lonely figure tracking
down the hill to the frozen pond
as I stood in the window tapping out
a line in my head with a cigarette.
I thought I had places to go alone.
If I could stand in that window again,
I would throw on my scarf and winter coat
and follow the trail of snowshoe tracks
past the barn and the glittering fields
to a world out of almanacs.
The Mermaid Story
We’ve all heard half of the fairy tale:
A mermaid rescued a drowning prince,
swam him to shore, then pined away
because she missed the weight of him
and the heat of his breath against her neck;
nothing at all like the trickle of cool
saltwater flushed from delicate gills
when she kissed the mermen back in school.
But since there are witches underwater
as well as over, within a year
she’d bargained away her tail for legs—
and her tongue, too, as legs were dear.
She married the prince. His body hair
tickled like beach grass parched in sun.
An eel grew where his legs forked.
(She couldn’t speak this to anyone.)
Back in the anti-universe,
a woman writer with two tongues
rooted to the floor of her mouth
like anemones has just swum
so deep with her freak tail,
the sea spins and her brain goes black.
We’ll see if the tongue she bargained for
can send a message back.