The moon is a surprised white face over the darkening river
Even before a pair of blue-gray wings swoops down
Between the O of its mouth and the O of a surfacing fish,
And the phone rings, and it’s you inBaton Rouge
Grilling a silver catfish and staring at the moon.
Julie Kane, “Moonrise overCaneRiver”,
from Rhythm & Booze (2003)
Much of Julie Kane’s poetry is about surprises, surfacings, and strangely appropriate coincidences—the kinds of moments that cause us to wonder if there might not, in fact, be something more at work than mere chance or choice. That’s not to say that her poetic world is magical or mystical in nature—in fact, it tends to strike one as insistently real and everyday; a world of normal people living normal, if sometimes painful and confusing, lives in places that we might walk past, or work in, or live in ourselves. What allows for its surprises is more often our own narrow expectations, the limits we place on our own thoughts, desires, or imagination, because life or experience has led us to believe that some things are impossible, even unsayable; that is, until the phone rings, and our vaguest, most unconscious thoughts are suddenly made real and present. Kane herself, who was recently appointed the newest Poet Laureate of Louisiana, has said of poetry, more generally, that it must, “bring to light what has previously been hidden from conscious awareness—states of consciousness, realms of inner and outer experience. I hold with the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas that if you bring forth what is within you, it will save you, but if you don’t, it will kill you.”*
Kane’s work, while it sometimes gestures towards the possibility of being killed by what remains unexpressed, more often than not finds salvation in those tiny, unexpected moments of awareness that come to us, like the timely phone call, partly by chance, and partly by a kind of willful imagining, a bringing into being of the thing we need most from the elements that we find all around us—a dark river, a catfish, a rising moon, a friendship. It’s because of the imaginative power of those everyday objects that place seems to play an important role in Kane’s work—in particular, its connection to the Louisiana landscape. Although not a native ofLouisiana (she was born and raised inBoston), her attachment to the state, its culture, and its people runs deep. She has written that, “A poet with an inborn sense of place needs a place to be from—its wildflowers and weather and landscape and history. I suspect that is why I’ve found it so hard to leave my ex-husband’s native state ofLouisiana.”* Not only has she not left it, she has adopted, adapted, and assimilated it into her poetic vision. Having lived for extended periods in Baton Rouge, New Orleans, and currently, Natchitoches (where she teaches at Northwestern State University), Kane has experienced much of the uniqueness and diversity of Louisiana culture, and found in it a rich and seemingly endless vein of creative material—from the vibrant, jazzy, smoke-filled lounges and literary hangouts of New Orleans in the late 70s to the more quiet and meditative banks of the Cane River in more recent years. She has also explored her own and the state’s emotional ups and downs through poems revealing the devastation and loss of the post-Katrina Gulf Coast, the economic and social hardships of life in the rural south, and, more recently, through upbeat and humorous light verses that demonstrate the capacity for survival and even joy in the face of so much loss.
It would be a shame to miss out on the experience of hearing Julie Kane’s poetry or meeting the poet herself during her visit to northernLouisiananext week. It is bound to be an evening full of surprises and revelations.
Julie Kane’s reading is sponsored by the Louisana Tech Department of English and the George E. Pankey Eminent Scholar Chair in English. The reading is free and open to the public.
*Julie Kane, Interview with Leslie Monsour, Eratosphere, 11-27-2008, http://www.ablemuse.com/erato/showthread.php?t=5776
This weeks Art Talk was contributed by Dr. John Edward Martin, Assistant Professor of English.