Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Fate: New Poems is a collection of long poems that give voice to mythic American figures. Some of Ai’s characters are people from recent history, such as film director Alfred Hitchcock, actor James Dean, singer Elvis Presley, Teamsters leader Jimmy Hoffa, and Mary Jo Kopechne, the woman who drowned when Senator Edward Kennedy’s car plunged into a river in Chappaquiddick, Massachusetts. Others are nameless but memorable individuals who live at a subsistence level and who survive out of sheer will. The poems are monologues or soliloquies that prod sharply at the reader’s gut as they give the stark details of violated lives. As the bemused, confused, and abused characters articulate their experiences, a picture emerges of the underside of America, a terrifying jungle where one class preys relentlessly on another and where women are almost invariably on the bottom.

The author explains her intent in a brief author’s note that prefaces the book: “Fate is about eroticism, politics, religion, and show business as tragicomedy, performed by women and men banished to the bare stage of their obsessions.” Characters take center stage just long enough to introduce themselves and sum up their lives, reinterpreting history or the American social scene while doing so. The individual poems are free-verse, sometimes apparently rambling discussions of how the character met his or her fate or continues daily to meet it. The women in the...

(The entire section is 543 words.)