A delusional woman insists that her long-dead sister perished in the destruction of the World Trade Center; John F. Kennedy Jr. speaks from beyond the grave; a psychic detective tracks a serial killer known as "The Florist"; an adoption broker exalts his dubious trade—these and other striking, violent or baroquely sexual life stories fuel this seventh volume of verse from Ai (Greed; Cruelty), made up (like her others) of dramatic monologues and character-based confessions, in which shocking, pathetic, frustrated or odious figures explain how they came to be the people they are. Ai (who won the National Book Award for 1999's Vice) explores her own Texas African-American heritage along with urban and Native American milieus; she's especially good with disillusioned middle-aged women and traumatized children, whom she ventriloquizes expertly: "Maybe Danny's only playing dead too/ and there's no gash in his head"; "Before I knew what was happening/ pain shot a fiery bullet into my arm." After six books of painful monologues, some readers may find her speakers' language limited, or their situations redundant; many, however, will gravitate to the undoubtedly powerful personae Ai creates, with their gender troubles and criminal pasts, their "inferno of family violence" and "rush/ of promises," and "reparations/ in pounds of flesh." (Apr.)
Forecast:Though she may not command the attention she drew in the 1970s, Ai retains a broad, devoted following, reinvigorated by her National Book Award. Look for broad if brief coverage in mainstream venues, perhaps led by her 9/11 poems.
Release date: 04/01/2003