(Masterpieces of American Literature)

“The Kid” is perhaps the most disturbing of Ai’s poems. Told in the first-person voice, this is the story of a boy of fourteen who is far from ordinary. The poem begins in a fairly straightforward way. The boy clearly lives on a farm; he is busy whacking the tires on the family’s truck with an iron rod. His father calls to him “to help hitch the team,” and then his mother calls him. He tosses a rock at the kitchen window, but he is unsuccessful in making his point in such a tame manner.

In the second stanza, this boy has given up whacking tires, and he splits his father’s skull open with the iron rod; when his mother comes running, he bludgeons her as well. He then proceeds to abandon the rod for a gun and starts shooting, first killing horses and then his little sister. The short poem is, however, more than a mere picture of bloody violence. It is the boy’s attitude that gives this poem its power: “Yeah. I’m Jack, Hogarth’s son./ I’m nimble, I’m quick.// I’m fourteen. I’m a wind from nowhere./ I can break your heart.”

There is no attempt by some outsider to justify the boy’s acts. The reader is not told about overly stern parents, about a “disturbed” child, or any such situation. Yet, obviously, something is wrong.

After the boy has killed his family, he puts on his father’s best clothes, packs his sister’s doll and his mother’s nightgown in a suitcase, and heads for the highway. It is...

(The entire section is 426 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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

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.