Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

Ai (pronounced like the first-person pronoun “I”) has written in various genres, including long fiction and short nonfiction for several major publications, though she concentrates on verse forms.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Ai’s poetry attracted attention right from the start, with her first publication, Cruelty, in 1973, earning as much criticism as praise. Killing Floor was named the 1978 Lamont Poetry Selection by the Academy of American Poets. She was awarded the American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation (1987) for Sin and the coveted National Book Award in Poetry (1999) for Vice. She received Guggenheim and Radcliffe fellowships in 1975, a Massachusetts Arts and Humanities Fellowship in 1976, and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) grants in 1978 and in 1985.

Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Violent imagery and taboo subjects are prevalent in Ai’s poems. What function could they serve other than to shock readers?

Despite the cruelty, anger, and sadness of the people portrayed in Ai’s poems, in what ways could they be inspiring?

What do the titles of Ai’s books (Cruelty, Killing Floor, Sin, Fate, Greed, Vice, and Dread) and the subjects of her poems suggest about her view of humanity and her role as a poet?

Most of Ai’s poems are written from the first-person point of view. What effect does this have on the poem and reader?

How does Ai use language to capture the personae, or personalities, of the speakers in her poems?


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Ackerson, Duane. “Ai: Overview.” In Contemporary Poets, edited by Thomas Riggs. 6th ed. New York: St. James Press, 1996. A brief but useful introduction.

Ai. “On Being One-Half Japanese, One-Eighth Choctaw, One-Fourth Black, and One-Sixteenth Irish.” Ms. 6, no. 11 (May, 1978): 58.

Bellamy, Joe David, ed. American Poetry Observed: Poets on Their Work. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1984. Contains an interview of Ai by Lawrence Kearney and Michael Cuddihy.

Cramer, Steven. Review of Fate, by Ai. Poetry 159 (November, 1991): 108-111.

Field, C. Renee. “Ai.” In American Poets Since World War II, Third Series, edited by R. S. Gwynn. Vol. 20 in Dictionary of Literary Biography. Detroit: Gale Group, 1992. A good overview.

Flamm, Matthew. “Ai Came, Ai Saw, Ai Conquered.” The Village Voice 31 (July 22, 1986). An interesting profile.

Kilcup, Karen. “Dialogues of the Self: Toward a Theory of (Re)reading Ai.” Journal of Gender Studies 7, no. 1 (March, 1998): 5-20.

Monaghan, Pat. Review of Fate, by Ai. Booklist 87 (January 1, 1991): 902.

Ostriker, Alicia. Review of Sin, by Ai. Poetry 144 (January, 1987): 231-237.

Seidman, Hugh. Review of Killing Floor, by Ai. The New York Times Book Review, July 8, 1979, 14.

Seshadri, Vijay. Review of Dread, by Ai. The New York Times Book Review, May 4, 2003.

Walker, Alice. “Like the Eye of a Horse.” Ms. 3 (June, 1974). A very early critique. Walker uses a line from the poet to show the distance that Ai utilizes in describing subjective events from an objective viewpoint.

Wilson, Rob. “The Will to Transcendence in Contemporary American Poet, Ai.” Canadian Review of American Studies 17, no. 4 (Winter, 1986): 437-448. A thorough critical study.