The National Book Award-winning poet Ai, who renamed herself after the Japanese word for love, died on Saturday
National Book Award-winning poet Ai, who was born Florence Anthony but changed her name to the Japanese word for love, died at the weekend, age 62.
Ai, who identified herself as Japanese, Choctaw-Chickasaw, black, Irish, southern Cheyenne and Comanche, died on Saturday after being admitted to hospital on Wednesday. The author of seven collections including Cruelty (1973), Sin (1986), Fate (1991) and Greed (1993), Ai won the National Book Award in 1999 for Vice. Her direct, often-brutal poetry, usually written in the form of a dramatic monologue, was informed by both her mixed race heritage and her feminist beliefs, according to the Poetry Foundation.
Poet Anne Sexton has described her as “all woman — all human”, but poet Alicia Ostriker said she was “more like a bad dream of Woody Allen’s, or the inside story of some Swinburnean Dolorosa, or the vagina-dentata itself, starting to talk”. “Woman, in Ai’s embodiment, wants sex,” Ostriker writes. “She knows about death and can kill animals and people. She is hard as dirt. Her realities — very small ones — are so intolerable that we fashion female myths to express our fear of her. She, however, lives the hard life below our myths.”
Ai, also the recipient of an American Book Award for Sin and of grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, taught at Oklahoma State University, which said it planned to establish a creative writing scholarship in her memory. A new volume of her poetry, No Surrender, is scheduled to be published this September.