This Old Poem #90:
Ai’s Grandfather Says
Copyright © by Dan Schneider, 5/8/04
Florence Anthony is yet another of the PC Elitist black poets who chose to reject their birth name in favor of a name of their own choosing. Unlike Ntozake Shange’s name change, however, Flo’s nominal switch was not due to puerile political political posturing- love that alliterative beat, man!- but to personal trauma. Just what kind of trauma would drive someone to change her name from something normal to the silly Ai (a ripoff of the earlier AE & HD- yet whose pen names were just that)? Here’s who:
Ai, who has described herself as ½ Japanese, Choctaw-Chickasaw, Black, Irish, Southern Cheyenne, and Comanche, was born in Albany, Texas, in 1947; she grew up in Tucson, Arizona. She legally changed her name to "Ai," which means "love" in Japanese. Qouth Ai: ‘Ai is the only name by which I wish, and indeed, should be known. Since I am the child of a scandalous affair my mother had with a Japanese man she met at a streetcar stop, and I was forced to live a lie for so many years, while my mother concealed my natural father's identity from me, I feel that I should not have to be identified with a man, who was only my stepfather, for all eternity’. Raised also in Las Vegas and San Francisco, she majored in Japanese at the University of Arizona and immersed herself in Buddhism. Currently based in Tempe, she has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and various universities; she has also been a frequent reader-performer of her work. Ai holds an M.F.A. from the University of California at Irvine. She is the author of Dread (W. W. Norton & Co., 2003); Vice (1999), which won the National Book Award for Poetry; Greed (1993); Fate (1991); Sin (1986), which won an American Book Award from the Before Columbus Foundation; Killing Floor (1979), which was the 1978 Lamont Poetry Award of the Academy of American Poets; and Cruelty (1973). She has also received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Bunting Fellowship Program at Radcliffe College. She teaches at Oklahoma State University and lives in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
The fact that
in Western society only men have surnames does nothing to blunt the illogic of
Ai’s stance, nor does the classic PC ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’
trauma really seem all that traumatic. & just how many ½s are there to this
pretty blank slate, yet oh so complex, poetaster?
Too many, as well as too many published pieces of shit. Here’s a typically PC & banal snip from a ‘feminist’ poem called Conversation:
Did you ever, you start,
Ostensibly a shot against conformity the poem lacks any real subtlety & the horror of confirmation dresses is just, well, too silly to contemplate. The poem is not trying to be humorous, for Ai is devoid of humor. In a sense, she is a ‘darker’ Carolyn Forché- both in skin color & subject matter. Note that I said nothing about quality for there is none, although I grant she is generally a bit better at enjambment than other PC Elitist poets. However, her poems have no music. Like this 1:
Coming home, I find you still in
but when I pull back the blanket,
I see your stomach is flat as an iron.
You've done it, as you warned me you would
and left the fetus wrapped in wax paper
for me to look at. My son.
Woman, loving you no matter what you do,
what can I say, except that I've heard
the poor have no children, just small people
and there is room only for one man in this house.
This is what passes for profundity in Ai’s moor of a mind. Although it’s better than the prior poem it’s still rather banal for the imagery, coming post-Plath, is really not that shocking & the poem just lays like the fetus, dad & with no real purpose save a failed shock value. Any political comment is so ‘out there’ that 1 wonders why Ai decide to do a poem, & not just a bumper sticker? The music? What did you say? Here’s some from a well-titled piece of crap called More:
I'd float past all the sad towns,
past all the dreamers onshore
with their hands out.
I'd hold on, I'd hold,
till the awful heaviness
tore from me,
sank to bottom and stayed.
Then I'd stand up
and walk home across the water.
In the poem America is anthropomorphized, which is not a bad conceit, but little is done with it save the same old Left wing kvetching. & why did she end the thing with the trite Lazarus cliché? I mean, even eliding the penultimate line still leaves you with guess who? Ugh! Guess what Ai handles even worse & clumsier than her faith? You got it, she’s written often of her alleged incest. It’s really bad, but take a gander:
in my hand."
Where to begin? The lack of music? The clichés that drip from every line? The melodrama? Jeez, this poem is so bad you almost wish grandpa had just slapped the whining little Flo, knowing she was gonna infect Academia with this classically workshopped wreck of a poem. Here, I shall improve it:
do anything for you,
I cried, "Yes," then "No."
"I'm only ten years old."
He said, "That's old enough to know."
really took alot of effort! I mean, tell me what the original has that this
doesn’t? Given the title & the author all that I cut is presumed. The nub
of the poem is in these 5 lines. The incest is implied, even with a different
title. Is this a good poem? No. I’d state it’s probably not even a poem.
Then where does that leave the original?
Did I tell you about her name thing?
Final Score: (1-100):
Ai’s Grandfather Says: 15
TOP’s Grandfather Says: 30
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