Paper Bullets by Julie Kane
"You can let down your guard when you're next to a bard."
In Julie Kane's fun new book, Paper Bullets, the paper the poems are printed on becomes the bullet of the proverbial gun -- of the "you're killing me" type -- to deliver the final, side-cracking blow. This is a book rife with war, a war of the humorous, be it the minor skirmishes of the neighborly type when water pressure is the pressure that irks ("Water Pressure"), the I-didn't-know-it-wasn't-me posturing of the student-teacher stand-off over grades ("The Best Defense"), the classic versing of nature against nature against man, or the larger wars of gender, aging, and the literary cannon. Paper Bullets is also a collection of poems in form -- for here are haikus, limericks, blues, villanelle, and more -- and poems in stylistic mimicry of and homage to poetic heroes, but these formal choices seem to crusade against the serious. Seriously? Kane is holding a paper gun and shooting these Paper Bullets straight at the funny bone.
In the sections "Gender Wars" and "The War with Time" Kane explores desire and looking. A steady gaze at a cute new boy terminates in a reminder that he might be gay ("New Cute Guy"). Updating one's status on social media has worrisome pitfalls for the seeking ("Status Update"). A shopping trip that produces stares, reveals not the full blossom of youth, but as Kane writes, "When I got home, the mirror showed / A black smudge on my nose." Kane reminds us how as girls we want the bad boys, but when it comes to men wanting us, or at least the redheaded among us, such desire is more obsessive fixation than charms. She writes:
then you know, for all of your charms,
he was only caught in the pull
of that least-known force of physics,
as a red flag draws a bull.
Kane is hopeful, a redhead, and true to form, ends the poem with a stinger on such red-driven men: "yet without their kind in the world / you might never get laid at all." Gender wars and sex wars aside, the struggle to have sex is present in other poems as well, for getting laid can be what delays satisfaction, like a town under siege, until the final lines in Kane's poems. In "Morning Sex" she laments the loss of "randy" days when "a phallus / It was just a snack, like candy." The poem concludes:
How I miss those long-bygone days
When the flesh was firm and fecund:
Now the snack's become the entrée,
And there's not a hope of seconds.
She's not blaming anyone, just pointing to the old warfare with Father Time and whether she is talking about sex, a gravesite, or knock-off Ken dolls, she delivers the punch, the stinger, the best last line. She is a stand-up comic in verse.
In the second section "Canon Wars" Kane offers verse written in the style of canonical poets like Wallace Stevens, while also speaking to such named masters to question their poetic choices. She complains, "One has to look up half the words: / 'ice cream' is 'concupiscent curds.'" In her poem "Emily, Walt, and Edna Rewrite 'Heartbreak Hotel'" she presents how they would choose to rewrite such a song, with Emily opening "'Tis down a Street -- called Lonely --" and Walt ending his addition,
The desk clerks keening in black, and I longing to ease their
To part the jet cloth from their bosom-bones and thrust my rude
tongue athwart them.
The poetic triumph of tongue-in-cheek comes in Kane's "The Lost Fascicle" a series of numbered poems presumably lost by Emily Dickinson with lines in italics from the poet and additional lines that must've been lost. Kane offers for poems 465, 1022, and 1555,
I heard a Fly buzz -- when I died --
The swatter had been left outside.
I never saw a Moor --
I never saw the Sea --
I traveled all around the World
But texted constantly.
I groped for him before I knew
That he had but one Ball, not two.
If there were a Canon War, one might argue that Paper Bullets wins, or at least Shakespeare, if he were appointed judge, might quip that Kane's quips are the best. The Bard does open Paper Bullet with his epigraph on the necessary subject of paper bullets from which Kane's book takes its title. Though the canon might be dead, contemporary poets still vie. In "The Rivals" Kane offers two such rivals lunching, having tea and dessert. She writes:
There were only three contenders
For the great big poetry prize --
Two of the feminine gender,
My frenemy and I.
Like the Cold War references Kane lists in her poem "Wrong Things They Taught Me," the poem ends in cold silence over the fear of death, the fear of losing, the fear of what the other might yet do. She writes, "Then the room grew suddenly colder / And the versifiers, terse." But unlike the coldness that may be present in "Po Biz," the poetic darlings, the poetic snobbery, the poetic contemporary literary landscape, Paper Bullets shoots holes in all things versified to offer well-aimed delightful fun. In the two-lined "Turbulence," Kane writes, "Clouds are pretty up above / but shitty in the middle of."
Paper Bullets by Julie Kane
White Violet Press