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« Once in Love with you know who . . . | Main | Monday @ KGB: Kiki Petrosino & Brett Eugene Ralph »

March 21, 2010


I always loved her poems. I never met her but I will miss her voice very much.

My condolences to you, Jerry. It's a sad day.

I greatly admired her poems, especially the dramatic monologues, in which she "became" Lenny Bruce or a politician or a sociopath whoever caught her fancy. For the record, I included something of hers for "The Oxford Book of American Poetry" -- which would have pleased Ai -- but was denied permission.

I was just talking to her a few months ago and she didn't mention a thing. Word came she was admitted to the ER in Stillwater last
Wednesday with pneumonia, but they found she was in the advanced stages of breast cancer. I'm wrecked over this. Nobody I know knew of her illness.

She was my predecessor at Irvine, as was Gary Soto, and, as just their junior, I looked up to them for what they accomplished as students there--one major reason I went. That they both wrote from their own unique experiences in voices that were not lock-step with any political ideology, but came from aesthetic considerations as much as experiential ones. That they ignored neither.

This is crazy. She was way too young. I can still picture her in a black velvet dress and a glittering Zirconia (I assume) necklace the last time I saw her, trying to borrow $50 for a cab to get back to her hotel. Knowing her, I gave her a ride in my own cab instead. She was mad and wanted to go out on the town, so I dropped her off at a bar she knew in the Village. We'd just read together in NY somewhere. Whenever I talked with her, it was usually about Mishima, Kawabata, and Japanese movies. She'd gotten an BA in Japanese at the University of Arizona before going to Irvine.

This is such sad news. And we have also just lost the great Russian poet Elena Shvarts, who was just about the same age, also to cancer. I was sorry also to hear that David Lehman wasn't given permission to include her in his Oxford Book of American Poetry. I feel fortunate that I was able to get permission from Norton to include her poem "The Cockfighter's Daughter" in my anthology "Being Alive", and I know from reader responses that that poem caught the attention, wonder and admiration of a lot of people in Britain.

so sad to see another poet go and really even sadder is that i wasn't familiar with her work. i hope to find some of her books very soon.

What a beautiful elegy, Jerry. I raise my glass to Ai! And to you!

Ai was a poetic mother to me too...Her poetry was a great influence to me, and then I was lucky enough to work with her at Arizona State when I was a grad student there, many years ago. She taught a great class on the dramatic monologue--of course--which I remember fondly. I also remember going shopping with her in Tempe--looking at jewelry, listening to her stories about her various adventures.

She was a great poet, and the poetry world is less bright without her. Rest in peace, teacher and friend.

What started on FB this morning as an attempt to confirm a rumor, has proven to be true: the loss of a blazing poetic voice that was an inspiration to so many of us. This afternoon, I went to Woman Made Gallery in Chicago where I was curating a Woman's History Month reading with 4 fine poets (Brenda Cardenas, Angela Jackson, Jacquelyn Pope and Lina Ramona Vitkauskas) and shared the very same poem you have posted. Thus, today, we celebrated the journey of AI into history.

Your remembrance of such an inspirational poet moved me to tears. Thank you for your sharing. I studied her in Contemporary Poetry years ago and was enamored with her distinct voice. Thanks, again.

Thanks so much, everyone, for all your kind words. I did my best to tell the truth of it. Nina, I did figure "Conversation" was the perfect poem as well, so thank you for mentioning that. So many of her poems just blow me away.

My name is Kristen McConnaughey and I am a reporter for OSU's Newspaper, The Daily O'Collegian. Carol Moder, the department head of English sent me the link to this blog. We are working on an article about Ai's impact at OSU. I would love to speak to former students about her. Please email me at [email protected] and we can set up a time to talk over the phone. It would be greatly appreciated.

Kristen, thanks for getting in touch. I hope you get lots of responses.

Jerry, do you mind if I use direct quotes from this blog in my article?

oh, that's fine, kristen.

you can find my biographical information on this site if you need it.

This is such a big shock. I cannot believe that Ai is really gone. A couple of years ago she told me that she had some problems with digestion, so she no longer ate out, and she was very careful with her diet (which featured canned salmon, dark chocolate, and a special kind of California tomato). But she always seemed healthy to me. We had so much fun going shopping for clothes on each of my visits to her, we usually ended up going to the grocery store since I had my car with me and she would otherwise have to take a cab to go grocery shopping. I wished that I lived closer so I could have helped her more. More importantly, we would have been able to see each other more often. We had similar tastes in both clothes and poetry, among other things. She was like a sister to me.

Just a few months ago I talked to her on the phone, and she sounded so cheerful and her usual lively self. She told me that she had just won a major poetry award (sorry I don't remember the name), and she was planning on going on a shopping spree. We also talked about her cats, and my kids, as well as my new poetry book manuscript. She was a great friend and mentor to me. She wrote a blurb for my first poetry book, and hosted my poetry reading at OSC a few years ago.

What will happen to her cats now? She loved her cats. When I visited with her at her house, she always called out her cats by names to come greet me (and they did). On my last visit with her last spring, I took her grocery shopping, and she bought lots of stuff for her cats, as well as big sacks of bird seeds for feeding birds in her front yard. Over the last couple of months, I have been thinking about calling her and deciding on a time for me to visit her. I cannot believe that I missed her, forever.

Ai, fearless poet and dear friend, may you rest in peace. Your poetry and your beauty will endure.

I tried to imitate her every day of my life. She was the way to write, the way I wanted to write. Ai, I miss u.

Brooklyn, NY

Ai was an amazing woman with her own personality, crazy cat connections, and an insight to words that I have yet to again experienced. As a recent OSU English graduate, I am stunned to hear she has passed, and wish now I had spent more time absorbing her aura. Rarely do I shed tears in public, but I sit now with tears in mourning at the loss of such a great American voice.
She will be missed, but as said, will never be forgotten.

I want to share with everyone who also miss Ai that I just returned from a long drive to Stillwater, where I said goodbye to Ai at the funeral home. She looked beautiful, and in peace. After I took leave of her, I sat in my car in the parking lot for a while, watching pines trees, birds, and dandelions. Then I was able to compose myself for the drive back. I think she will always be with us in some way. She would like that.

I would also like to mention that I think Ai's work transcends gender; she was a woman poet, but she did not write "female" poetry, she wrote great, powerful poems so bright and sharp that they sear. I am glad that I told her this in my very first email message to her following our meeting almost ten years ago.

I just want to say how grateful I am to Jerry for thinking of this blog as a place to write about Ai and to everyone else who has posted their memories of her and expressed their grief. I am sorry for your loss. I didn't know Ai, except through her poems. While she was a remarkable poet, I now see that she was a remarkable person as well. I hope others will contribute to this moving string of comments.

Jerry, this is a wonderful tribute to Ai in the midst of a shocking loss. Thank you for taking the time to express what many poets of our generation feel about her and her work.

I can vividly recall the first time I read her poetry. I was leafing through the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, and there, near the end, was a group of poems like a necklace of blood. Completely unlike anything else I’d read, their effect on me was, as Dickinson describes in her litmus test for poetry, like having the top of my head physically taken off. Or as Ai would have it, scalped or blown off.

She was one of the main reasons I decided to do my graduate studies at Oklahoma State, and her work certainly influenced mine. I learned a lot from her advice on poetry, her readings, and the visiting writers she brought to campus, and I enjoyed our continuing dialogues about Buddhism, Texas, genealogy, Native Americans, and cats.

I’m glad I got to know her and be around her during five years of my life, and I’m thankful for the blissful knives of her work. She is gone far too soon and will be greatly missed.

Om gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha. May she have an extremely fortunate rebirth.

Very nice, Tim.

I can remember first being struck by the force of Ai's poetry in 1986 during an undergraduate workshop taught by William Heyen at The College at Brockport in Western New York, where I studied with Heyen & the late Anthony Piccione. Shortly thereafter, Ai's book "Sin" came out, rocked my world, and she has remained one of my favourite voices in Contemporary American Poetry to this day.

Regrettably, I passed up a chance to study with her and Galway Kinnell when they both taught at NYU in the late Eighties. I've since retired from a culinary career and returned to Brockport to study fiction with Anne Panning and James Whorton, Jr., but poetry remains a vital part of both my life and my writing, and I did an oral presentation on Ai's work for another Brockport poetry workshop this past fall, taught by Ralph Black. I've included a link to some of the excerpted text that was written for that project.

Ai will most certainly be greatly missed by this writer. Amen.

Thank you all, for this has been so hard on us, but we have returned knowing such wonderful and compassionate people that will be always consider our new friends and family. That for years to come will be a joyous time to remember such a strong minded person and poet, and such an amazing woman that was not to be reckoned with. But your words will continue on. For you are and always will be remembered. Love you Ai and you will be missed.

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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