The great-grandchild of eight Irish immigrants, poet Julie Kane was born in Boston, Massachusetts. She grew up in Massachusetts, upstate New York, and New Jersey, graduating from Cornell University with a B.A. in English and winning first prize in the Mademoiselle Magazine College Poetry Competition, judged by Anne Sexton and James Merrill. That led her to graduate school in creative writing at Boston University, where she was one of Sexton's students at the time of her death. The next year, she became the first woman to hold the George Bennett Fellowship in Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy. Kane moved to Louisiana after marrying a native, then stayed after the marriage ended. She lived in Baton Rouge for two years, working in the federal “War on Poverty”; then in New Orleans for seventeen years, working as a technical writer and editor; then in St. Gabriel for four years, completing a doctorate in English at Louisiana State University. Her dissertation on the villanelle won the Lewis P. Simpson Award, and she also won LSU's Academy of American Poets Prize, judged by Louise Gluck. Since 1999 she has lived in Natchitoches, where she is Professor of English Emeritus at Northwestern State University and winner of the Excellence in Teaching Award, Mildred Hart Bailey Faculty Research Award, and Dr. Jean D'Amato-Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award. During 2002 she was a Fulbright Scholar to Lithuania, teaching at Vilnius Pedagogical University. She won the National Poetry Series, judged by Maxine Kumin, in 2002 and the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, judged by David Mason, in 2009. From 2011-2013 she served as the Louisiana Poet Laureate. In 2018 she joined the poetry faculty of the Western Colorado University low-residency MFA program.
Credit: Adrianne Mathiowetz Photography
Like Everette Maddox, Grace Bauer, and Yusef Komunyakaa, among others, Kane was one of the poets associated with the Maple Leaf Bar literary scene in New Orleans in the late 1970s and 1980s. She was also a faculty member and frequent panelist of the West Chester Conference on Form and Narrative in Poetry, although she prefers Barbara Crooker’s term “semi-formalist.” Her poems often take up themes of the breakdown of modern relationships or the intersection of identity and place, with the cold, unforgiving North of her Irish Catholic girlhood and the warm, sensual South of her adult years figuring as the two poles of fate vs. free will, inescapable tragedy vs. redemption through an act of grace.
In 1982, Only Poetry Press in London issued a two-woman chapbook titled Two Into One with poems by Julie Kane and Ruth Adatia. Kane's first full-length poetry collection, Body and Soul, came out from Pirogue Publishing (New Orleans) in 1987. Her chapbook The Bartender Poems appeared from Greville Press in London in 1991 and was launched at the National Poetry Library in London's South Bank Centre with an introduction by Harold Pinter (co-owner of Greville Press). Then her second poetry book, Rhythm & Booze (U of Illinois Press, 2003) won the National Poetry Series, selected by Maxine Kumin, and was a finalist for the 2005 Poets' Prize. Her third book, Jazz Funeral (2009), won the Donald Justice Poetry Prize, selected by David Mason. Her fourth book was just for fun: Paper Bullets (White Violet Press, 2014), a collection of humorous poems. Newly out is her fifth book, Mothers of Ireland (LSU Press, 2020).
Her poems have appeared in journals including The Antioch Review, Barrow Street, Birmingham Poetry Review, Cherry Tree, Feminist Studies, The Hopkins Review, London Magazine, Prairie Schooner, Rattle, and The Southern Review and have been featured on Poetry Daily, Verse Daily, and The Writer's Almanac. They have also been included in more than fifty anthologies. Some of them are Best American Poetry 2016, Turn It Up! Music in Poetry from Jazz to Hip-Hop, Norton's The Seagull Reader, Penguin's Poetry: A Pocket Anthology, and The Book of Irish American Poets from the Eighteenth Century to the Present.
Kane is also a nonfiction writer, editor, translator, and scholar. The Vietnam memoir that she co-authored with Vietnamese Navy Captain Kiem Do, Counterpart: A Vietnamese Naval Officer’s War (Naval Institute Press, 1998), became a History Book Club featured alternate. Captain Kiem was featured in Rory Kennedy's Oscar-finalist documentary film Last Days in Vietnam.
Together with Grace Bauer, Kane co-edited Umpteen Ways of Looking at a Possum: Critical and Creative Responses to Everette Maddox (Xavier Review Press, 2006), which was one of three finalists for the 2007 Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance (SIBA) Book Award in Poetry. She and Bauer also teamed up to co-edit Nasty Women Poets: An Unapologetic Anthology of Subversive Verse (Lost Horse Press, 2017). She also edited the post-1900 poetry selections for the Longman anthology of Southern literature, Voices of the American South (Pearson, 2005). Kane has published poetry translations from the French of Victor Hugo and co-translations from the Lithuanian of Tautvyda Marcinkevičiūtė, and she wrote the historical introductions to the anthologies Contemporary Lithuanian Poetry: A Baltic Anthology (UNO Press, 2013) and Villanelles (Everyman’s Library, 2012). Recently out from Lost Horse Press is Terribly in Love, a collection of English-language translations of Marcinkevičiūtė's poems co-edited by Kane and H. L. Hix. Kane is also a contributing editor for Light: A Journal of Light Verse Since 1992.
Her essays on poetry and literature appear in Twentieth Century Literature, Literature Film Quarterly, Modern Language Quarterly, Journal of Consciousness Studies, PsyArt, Mezzo Cammin, Per Contra, Dictionary of Literary Biography, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Southern Writers: A New Biographical Dictionary, The Facts on File Companion to Twentieth-Century British Poetry, Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences, and other journals and publications. Her research on the villanelle’s history led to her discovery that its form was not fixed until the 19th century—not the 16th or even earlier, as was then claimed in all reference books on the subject. And at a time when the brain’s left hemisphere was believed to be the sole “seat of language,” Kane was the first researcher to put forth the hypothesis that “poetic” language was dependent upon right-hemispheric functioning. She was also the first person to write a scholarly essay on Tim Gautreaux, who has since become canonical among Southern fiction writers.
POETRY AND MUSIC
Kane has collaborated with several contemporary musical composers. "Cities of Light," with music by Kenneth Olson, was premiered by the Natchitoches/NSU Symphony in 2014, featuring soprano Donna Lee. In 2013 her one-act opera "Starship Paradise," with music by Dale Trumbore, was produced by Center City Opera Theater of Philadelphia. The American Boychoir performed Libby Larsen’s setting of Kane’s poem “Reasons for Loving the Harmonica” on their CD Fast Cats and Mysterious Cows—Songs from America (Virgin Classics, 1999). The score was published by Oxford University Press. Mezzo-soprano Susanne Mentzer’s recording of the Kane/Larsen song “Blond Men” can be found on the CD The Eternal Feminine (Koch International, 2001), and mezzo Jamie Barton has been performing the song on tour in 2019-2020. Dale Trumbore’s setting of Kane’s poem “The Mermaid Story” is sung by soprano Gillian Hollis on the CD Snow White Turns Sixty (Dissonant/Gorgeous Productions, 2011), and Trumbore’s versions of Kane’s “House Made Out of Mud” and “Sunbeam Blues” as well as “The Mermaid Story” appear on Hollis and Trumbore: Live in Louisiana (Dissonant/Gorgeous, 2013).