Al Young title

Ai | October 21, 1947~March 20, 2010 | In Memoriam


ai Who took this photo?

Ai © Nancy Fewkes

Born Florence Anthony (October 21, 1947 – March 20, 2010), Ai was a National Book Award winning American poet and educator who legally changed her name to Ai Ogawa. Ai, who described herself as ½ Japanese, Choctaw-Chickasaw, Black, Irish, Southern Cheyenne, and Comanche, was born in Albany, Texas in 1947, and she grew up in Tucson, Arizona. Raised also in Las Vegas and San Francisco, she majored in Japanese at the University of Arizona and immersed herself in Buddhism. (See Wikipedia)

yellow light andrew ferguson
© Andrew Ferguson



We smile at each other
and I lean back against the wicker couch.
How does it feel to be dead? I say.
You touch my knees with your blue fingers.
And when you open your mouth,
a ball of yellow light falls to the floor
and burns a hole through it.
Don’t tell me, I say. I don’t want to hear.
Did you ever, you start,
wear a certain kind of dress
and just by accident,
so inconsequential you barely notice it,
your fingers graze that dress
and you hear the sound of a knife cutting paper,
you see it too
and you realize how that image
is simply the extension of another image,
that your own life
is a chain of words
that one day will snap.
Words, you say, young girls in a circle, holding hands,
and beginning to rise heavenward
in their confirmation dresses,
like white helium balloons,
the wreathes of flowers on their heads spinning,
and above all that,
that’s where I’m floating,
and that’s what it’s like
only ten times clearer,
ten times more horrible.
Could anyone alive survive it?


Ai, a Steadfast Poetic Channel of Hard Lives, Dies at 62 ~ Margalit Fox, New York Times; March 27, 2010

National Book Award winning poet Ai has died ~ Carolyn Kellogg, Jacket Copy, L.A. Times; March 24, 2010

The poet Ai joins the ancestors ~ this black sista’s page; March 24, 2010

Books by Ai

cruelty2 ai.htm1


Patricia Spears Jones

It’s a beautiful morning, a Sunday morning the second day of Spring and I am in tears. The poet, Ai Ogawa has passed on March 19. We just lived through a soul killing winter and many people did not make it to Friday’s glorious vernal equinox. Joy Harjo said there was snow in Albuqurque. There was sun sun sun here.

Ai was not a mentor or teacher, she was a friend. One of the wonderful people I got to know in my short time living in Boston. She was a brilliant poet and I remember buying Cruelty in the 1970s and seeing her picture and thinking what a beautiful and incredibly insightful woman. Her personna poems are contemporary classics. She was able to go deep into her subjects-she really could roam the shadow world; she understood the consequences, the brutality of absolute power whether wielded by dictators or some poor woman’s husband. I loved her occasional obsessions like The Wooster Group-esp Willem Dafoe and Ron Vawter who showed off their Johnsons when they performed a hula-yes those guys were sans culottes! She was incredibly bawdy and stylish and occasionally imperious, totally eccentric and witty. I wonder if her cats are okay.

I talked with her earlier this year sharing a bit of my troubles, but mostly we ranked on some poets (lots of laughter), talked about Obama and hoped each other well.

I don’t know what happened, but around this time last year Deborah Digges took her life and I know that other women in their late 50’s and early 60s are really vulnerable. We are the generation that has seen, done many things. Some of us have been rewarded for this, but many of us are just trying to stay vital, disciplined in our work, and gain recognition for for our work, our lives. But we live in a culture that has not learned how to care for women and men aging, evolving if they are not in certain categories. A single woman, even one as celebrated as Ai living in the middle of this country could be poorly treated, but that’s speculation.

Where her soul goes, I know not. But she worked language in amazing ways and I would hope that there’s a really great flea market where she can search for gorgeous fabrics and designer dresses from the 1920s and try them on to her heart’s content.

Lord, what a morning.

— Patricia Spears Jones,
Brooklyn, NY

Sharon Doubiago

Ai:  I go back to G Road North, Albion, California, poems in APR, 1976-7. I was so trying to be a poet out of all the established shit. Her photo. Her incredible Asian American African face. Poems I couldn’t entirely figure (and the anger was harder) but poems of “people” I also was trying to write of. Daughter molesters, mixed racists, killing, the famous icons, American history, violence and love, fathers and the military and US colonialism, family (did she ever write of her own family? intimate poems of herself?) One about Marilyn Monroe that though read and reread and studied, and of whom I knew, it almost seemed, as much as any serious thinker about Monroe, re America (later Joyce Carol Oak’s Blonde???), I could not figure, entirely, this poem–re the history, the facts.  Yet it’s energy was so explosive, so making the read worth it, so the truth I knew even if i still did not understand. (“Kerouac and Monroe on Kalaloch”). There’s her poem from back then, Salome, that’s gone around in the announcements of her death and which I remember reading from then, but which, I still don’t fully understand:  the last line (the mother’s complicity???). Sending this for now. (Last night I decided not to copy it.) but it’s hear:

Many many years later I learned (from Philip Suntree Doughtry) that Ai was in his UC Irvine phd Writing program I received a full fellowship to, but decline so as NOT write the story of my father. I still can’t imagine what would have happened if I had. But I do know, always, that Ai was my sister (as is Philip my brother).

Kisses, Ai, kisses into the ether (especially to your lungs, your breast on top of it).

— Sharon Doubiago,
Berkeley, CA



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