Critical Overview

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“Reunions with a Ghost” was first published in Ai’s fourth collection of poetry, Fate (1991), where it was overshadowed by the new direction that the poet’s work was taking. Most of the poems in Fate are dramatic monologues written from the point of view of famous figures in American culture, such as General Custer, Lenny Bruce, Jimmy Hoffa, and James Dean, and it was those poems that tended to catch the attention of reviewers. They stand in contrast to the narrator of “Reunions with a Ghost,” who is an unnamed, ordinary woman, not an icon of American culture. In this respect, “Reunions with a Ghost” is closer to Ai’s earlier work, in books such as Cruelty (1973) and Killing Floor (1979), which contain many poems written from the point of view of anonymous narrators who endure difficult lives.

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Reviewers expressed reservations about the effectiveness of many of the dramatic monologues of the famous in Fate, and Penny Kaganoff, in Publishers Weekly, felt that “obscure lives make better material, as in ‘Reunions with a Ghost,’ a love poem that effortlessly and beautifully finds a resolution without enduring a full-blown socio-cultural exposition.” In a favorable review of Fate, Rochelle Ratner, in Library Journal, commented that “male and female characters are equally pitiful, yet the poet’s strength rests in her ability to avoid wallowing in sympathy for them.”

“Reunions with a Ghost” was one of ten poems from the sixteen in Fate that Ai selected to be reprinted in Vice: New and Selected Poems in 1997, suggesting that it may prove to be one of her more enduring poems.

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Essays and Criticism