“As If”: Five Questions with Julie Kane

Julie Kane was born in Boston Massachusetts and grew up in upstate New York and New Jersey. After graduating from Cornell University and then Boston University as a graduate poetry student, she moved to Baton Rouge Louisiana where she worked as a technical writer and editor. Julie Kane later went on to teach at Northwestern State University as a Professor of English Emeritus and won the 2014 Excellence in Teaching Award. Kane has won countless awards for her work over the years such the Donald Justice Poetry Prize for her third poetry collection, Jazz Funeral (Story line Press, 2009), an Academy of American Poets Prize, and first prize in the Mademoiselle Magazine College Poetry Competition. Kane’s publications include Vietnamese Naval Officer’s War (Naval Institute Press, 1998), Rhythm & Booze (2003), and Paper Bullets (2014). Kane’s simple and straightforward structure drew me into her poem “As If”  as she conveyed a powerful story and message about relationships in a few short lines.

Madison Aponte: You have won many awards for your poetry over the years. Is there one, in particular, that is more important or meaningful than the others?

Julie Kane: My first significant poetry award was winning first prize in the Mademoiselle Magazine college poetry contest. It was extremely meaningful to me because I was so young (a senior in college) and it gave me confidence in my work at a time when I was just starting out. Most of all, however, I was thrilled because it was judged by Anne Sexton, who was my favorite living poet at the time. I could not get over the fact that someone whose poems I loved so much liked mine, too.

MA: Does your background/heritage play a role in how you’ve developed your style of poetry?

JK: It’s funny that you should ask that question, because my next collection of poetry, which will be published by LSU Press in the Fall of 2020, is titled Mothers of Ireland, and it is about my Irish women ancestors, the hardships that they endured, and the way that historical trauma gets passed down to later generations. All eight of my great-grandparents came from Ireland. It is a culture that values the oral traditions of singing, storytelling and reciting poetry, and I think that has had an influence on my poetry. I write to be heard with the ears, not just comprehended with the brain. The sounds of language are as important to me as the meanings of words.

MA: What is the process of compiling poems for your poetry books and collections like?

JK: Usually, after I have published a book of poems, I don’t really know where the next one is going for a while. I write my poems one at a time, but once I have a little stack of new work, I begin to notice that the new poems are clustering around certain themes. Then I begin trying to arrange them in groups. Once I consciously know what the overall theme of the next book is going to be and the way it is going to be structured in sections (when it is about two-thirds written), that becomes a blueprint for writing new poems to make the book complete.

MA: Is there anything in particular that you do to prevent writer’s block or to spark ideas for new poems? I am not a writer myself but I was wondering because you have so many poems and collections meaning that you seem to have an effective way to keep writing and generating new ideas.

JK: I don’t worry too much about writer’s block, because I feel as if the unconscious mind is working on poems even when the conscious mind is not. But I did get some great advice about writer’s block from poet Sandra McPherson once. She said, if you feel blocked, write about what scares you. You don’t have to publish it or even show it to anyone. Just find the language to write your truth. Another strategy is that if you don’t feel like writing poems for a while, try another type of writing: nonfiction, or song lyrics, or a story for children. You should be writing because you want to, not because you feel that you have to.

MA: The short poem “As If” lacks stanzas or line breaks which I found very interesting when I read it. Is there a particular reason or idea behind the poem’s structure?

JK: “As If” is actually a Shakespearean sonnet! If you look at it closely, you will see that it has 14 lines; the rhyme scheme is ababcdcdefefgg, and the meter is iambic pentameter. The fact that its form did not jump out at you is a good thing because I like the challenge of working in traditional poetic forms that are hundreds of years old, but using contemporary English that sounds as if a person is really talking to you, not sounding phony and “poetic.” I also mute the rhymes some of the time so that they are not overly obvious; for example, I rhyme “tape” and “grave,” and “apart” and “dark,” which are slant rhymes and not perfect rhymes. When you say the words out loud, you can hear that they sound alike, but it’s not a pure rhyme like “dead” and “bed.” This poem is about two former lovers getting back together after a long break, so it seemed like a natural choice to write it as a sonnet, which is the poetic form most associated with love.

 

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