The prominent American poet Ai, whose work — known for its raw power, jagged edges and unflinching examination of violence and despair — stood as a damning indictment of American society, died on March 20 in Stillwater, Okla. She was 62 and lived in Stillwater.
She received a National Book Award in 1999 for “Vice: New and Selected Poems,” published that year by W. W. Norton & Company.
Her other books include “Sin” (1986), “Fate” (1991), “Greed” (1993) and “Dread” (2003). A posthumous volume, “No Surrender,” is to be published by Norton in September.
Oddly, despite all of her awards and publications, she was not what you would call a voice of her generation. Instead, her life followed the path of the contemporary American author: a leisurely publication schedule (5 books in 25 years!), racial obsessiveness, fulminations about "Greed" and "Vice," and the inevitable professorship. The last is the best part. No one ever need starve in a garret for their art!
Of course, Ai will live on, at least for a few years, in her work. Here are some choice lines:
I scissor the stem of the red carnation
and set it in a bowl of water.
It floats the way your head would,
if I cut it off.
But what if I tore you apart
for those afternoons
when I was fifteen
and so like a bird of paradise
slaughtered for its feathers.