From Publishers Weekly
A master of the dramatic monologue in her last book, Ai, who died in March 2010, dives into the minds and memories of a diverse array of characters, both fictional and non. The characters include Elizabeth Custer, the outspoken wife of the general in the Civil War; a young man who is raped by his roommate after a graduation celebration turns to debauchery; Manesh, a scholar of philosophy from New Delhi who is nearly suffocating in a box aboard ship, smuggling himself to America. Despite their differences, these characters all channel Ai's own voice and concerns. In "Fatherhood," a part-Irish woman fantasizes about fitting in at an Irish street fair. "The Hunt" involves an interracial marriage with a prominent woman named Florence. Several of the poems explore the speakers' troubled relationship to others-mainly family: "We fathers, sons brothers, uncles, and husbands,/ Confused and Sputtering into our glasses, Paralyzed by what passes for living/ In the age of terror and misgiving." This book makes a powerful conclusion to an important poet's career.
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The title of Ai’s eighth and final collection is a bittersweet battle cry, given her death at age 62 in March 2010. Born Florence Anthony, the National Book Award–winning poet of Japanese, African American, Choctaw, and Irish descent who changed her name to Ai, which means love in Japanese, gave voice to a diverse array of voices in indelible dramatic monologues. Here her signature form is a vessel for concentrated yet complex and suspenseful stories, wrenching or liberating confessions. We hear from reluctant parents and children struggling with cruelty, lies, and chaos; an on-again, off-again Irish nun who meets Elvis in Las Vegas; and a young man traumatized by a rape he cannot remember. Venturing into the history of American racial oppression and genocide, Ai empathically portrays Elizabeth Custer, the infamous general’s wife. A few of these technically brilliant and emotionally devastating soliloquies offer glimpses into the poet’s life and, in the staggering “The Cancer Chronicles,” her death. Let Ai’s books preserve her compassion and righteous anger, her artistry and profound sense of the paradoxes of human existence. --Donna Seaman