"There aren't many poets whose language so precisely resonates with the pervasive concerns of the contemporary human condition," (Carolyn Forché, Vice). "Ai is a strong, powerful poet who writes about real things. These are daring, disturbing, ambitious poems that go for the heart of America" (Joy Harjo, Vice). Her personal experience influences her writing by taking a cynical outlook on the world and unveiling that darkness in her poetry. Her constant use of violence, sex, and off the wall topics suggest that she was not pleased with her constant moving, and not having a true settled child and teen hood.
Her poems reach a new perspective in fictional poetry as she writes about truth, eroticism, hot button issues, and violence through current events and pop culture references. She exposes past scandals from a first person view, and gives her characters strong dialogue and mobility throughout her poems. Her many voices she takes in her poetry include Jimmy Hoffa, Jack Ruby, Lyndon Johnson, General Custer, and many more. In her dramatic monologues, her background and ability to display cultural dissection is imminent. She has published several books including Sin, Killing Floor, Fate, Greed, and Cruelty.
Ai was born in Tuscan, AZ. She insists that she is black, Japanese, Choctaw, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Irish. She does not feel a particular connection for her African-American heritage but she does feel a connection with the Native-American tribes of the southwest since she has lived there so long. She had a troubled, poor childhood where here mother concealed her Japanese father's existence, a secret that can tear apart the mind of a child. She moved constantly in her childhood across the Southwestern United States, which must have caused a lot of stress and grief. When she was fourteen, she first started writing when she sought to enter a poetry contest when she attended a Los Angeles Catholic school. Even though she didn't enter the contest because she had to move, Ai realized that she had skill with the pen. Her biggest influences have been her teachers especially her first poetry teacher who established her habit of using first person. Mostly, she feels she has developed independently and is not influenced by other writers.
Some Latin writers such as Miguel Hernandez, Marquez, and Vallejo inspire her through their use of language not commonly used in America. She graduated from the University of Arizona with a bachelor degree in Japanese, and also has a M.F.A from UC-Irvine. She writes about things that come to her through real life happenings as described by the media or personal experience. For example, she can be listening to the radio or watching the news and she hears a particular lyric or newscast that catches her interest. She'll have a mindset to write about that topic or person relentlessly until the poem is finished.
Many consider Ai an avid writer, and it shows. Her works have recently won the National Book award for Vice, the Lamont poetry award, and the American Book Award.
Poems - 17 in all
Woman to Man
Nothing But Color
Riot Act, April 29, 1992
Interview with a Policeman
She Didn't Even Wave
Talking to His Reflection in a Shallow Pond