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30 Aug Dread -by Ai – Book Review

I don’t know the exact reason why I picked up this book, for the poet or for her poems, because both are fascinating. One is a human being who, through pain and life, has evolved into a person with piercing insight; the other is her work, consisting of dramatic monologues as she calls them.

While most of the poetry in the book reflects Ai’s pain, Ai’s poems in Dread are character sketches caught in the violence of the world; although, the poems are not sketches at all, but they show the poet’s view of living through other peoples’ eyes while feeling their pain, fully. Through her characters, Ai’s poetry arrives at deep but disturbing universal truths.

The title of the book gets its name from the first poem “Dread” portraying a woman officer whose brother disappeared in the World Trade Center disaster. The other characters she mentions range from her own great great grandfather to journalists, to detectives, and to people in history like Jimmy Hoffa, Custer, J. Edgar Hoover, and others.

It is quite impossible to quote from the poems of Ai, because each poem is a solid rock and it can’t be chipped away. Most, in one way or the other, reflect the trauma of living in a brutal world. The ones who have passed away are given a place, also, with a genuine quality, like the dead sister in “Delusion.”

Ai talks to the world with vitality, and through her characters’ voices, re-produces their miseries and penetrates into their cores as she lets the readers have a peek at her own insides. Whether John F. Kennedy Junior speaks from beyond the grave or a grandfather commits incest, we as readers are made to feel the sting of personal or collective ordeals, savage and vicious in nature.

Ai’s own history, too, is presented in her poetry, especially in “Relativity.” From the circumstances of her birth and who her parents are to other events in her life, we bear witness to the poet’s moral and emotional strength, because her wounds become our wounds while we absorb her poetry.

The poet, Ai, was born in Albany Texas in 1947. Her birth name was Florence Anthony. She took the name Ai legally later, Ai meaning love, in Japanese. Ai grew up in Tucson, and in Las Vegas and San Francisco. She, then, majored in Japanese at the University of Arizona. She has an MFA from UC at Irvine, and she now teaches at Oklahoma State University.

Her other books are: Vice (1999), which won the National Book Award for Poetry; Greed (1993); Fate (1991); Sin (1986), which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; Killing Floor (1979), which was the 1978 Lamont Poetry Award of the Academy of American Poets; and Cruelty (1973).

“Dread” is in hardcover in 128 pages with ISBN-10: 0393041433 and ISBN-13: 978-0393041439.

Dread is an important poetry book, poignant and eye-opening; although, it may be disquieting at the same time.



Joy Cagil

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