Poetry Sunday: 'Used Book,' 'Unplanned Obsolescence,' and 'Plea Bargain' by Julie Kane

Used Book What luck—an open bookstore up ahead as rain lashed awnings over Royal Street, and then to find the books were secondhand, with one whole wall assigned to poetry; and then, as if that wasn’t luck enough, to find, between Jarrell and Weldon Kees, the blue-on-cream, familiar backbone of my chapbook, out of print since ’83 — its cover very slightly coffee-stained, but aging (all in all) no worse than flesh through all those cycles of the seasons since its publication by a London press. Then, out of luck, I read the name inside: The man I thought would love me till I died.   First published in The Formalist 15.2 (2004)   Unplanned Obsolescence I wish I hadn’t mentioned pay phone dimes or female hurricanes, or pink foam rollers. My poems slowly slip behind the times. I wish I hadn’t mentioned pay phone dimes. Soon, editors will footnote all my lines as coffin thieves pry silver from my molars. I wish I hadn’t mentioned pay phone dimes or female hurricanes, or pink foam rollers.   First published in Umbrella/Bumbershoot 2 (Spring 2007)   Plea Bargain Inside the scanner’s tunnel, you swear that you will be a candidate for sainthood if spared from the big C. You’ll help to feed the hungry, you’ll comfort the bereft; you’ll minister to lepers if there are any left. But when the doctors tell you that you are in the pink, the terms that you agreed to seem rather harsh, you think: perhaps another kitten, a shelter rescue pet, or pound of fair-trade coffee would settle up the debt.   First published in Light Magazine 52-53 (Spring/Summer 2006)  

Photo: Gerry Cambridge

Julie Kane’s books of poetry include Rhythm & Booze (2003), Maxine Kumin’s selection for the National Poetry Series; Jazz Funeral (2009), winner of the Donald Justice Poetry Prize; and Paper Bullets (2014), a collection of light verse that can be ordered at www.amazon.com. From 2011 to 2013, she served as Louisiana Poet Laureate. Her poems appear in more than fifty anthologies, including Norton’s Seagull Reader, Penguin’s Pocket Poetry, and Best American Poetry 2016. Julie has been the George Bennett Fellow in Writing at Phillips Exeter Academy, the New Orleans Writer in Residence at Tulane University, and a Fulbright Lecturer at Vilnius Pedagogical University (Lithuania). Awards for her work include a Glenna Luschei Prairie Schooner Poetry Prize, an Academy of American Poets Prize, and the 2008 Open Poetry International Sonnet Prize. She is a member of the Poets’ Prize Committee and a past juror for the National Book Award in Poetry. Her scholarly publications include a doctoral dissertation on the villanelle and the historical introduction to the anthology Villanelles (2014), as well as essays in The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the Language Sciences, The Facts on File Companion to British Poetry, Modern Language Quarterly, The Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, and Twentieth Century Literature. She is a Contributing Editor to Light Magazine and an Associate Editor of the Southern literature anthology Voices of the New South (2005). A Professor of English at Northwestern State University in Natchitoches, Louisiana, she is a recent recipient of their Excellence in Teaching Award and Dr. Jean D’Amato-Thomas Lifetime Achievement Award.  

Poet’s Note

I wish I could say that “Used Book” was a creation of my imagination but, unfortunately, it happened pretty much like that, except that I moved the used bookstore over a couple of blocks. I didn’t think readers would know how to pronounce Chartres Street, and “Royal” made for a pretty alliteration with “rain.” The original experience was mortifying, but the poem wound up winning an international sonnet contest with a prize of 1400 British pounds and a reception at Cambridge University—so it had a happy ending after all. As I was retyping my out-of-print first book, Body and Soul, to make a Kindle edition possible, it struck me that some of the items referenced in the poems had become obsolete and would probably require footnotes for a young reader: pay phones, pink foam hair rollers, hurricanes with only women’s names. That’s what inspired “Unplanned Obsolescence.” I wanted it to have a mixed tone, partly morbid and partly funny, and for some reason, the tiny little triolet form seemed to be a good vehicle to convey that ambiguity. I believe it’s the first triolet I ever wrote. I had a serious bout with cancer in the year 2000, and “Plea Bargain” came out of the years of regular checkups after that. I felt a little guilty using the word “lepers” instead of “Hansen’s Disease” in the poem, but I wanted the Biblical connotations and not the contemporary context.

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