Cover image for Vice : new and selected poems
Vice : new and selected poems
Ai, 1947-2010.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton, [1999]

Physical Description:
xiv, 256 pages ; 22 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3551.I2 V53 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



Collected here are poems from Ai's four early books - Cruelty, Killing Floor, Sin, and Fate - along with 17 new poems. Ai takes the reader on a journey into the heart torn from the bared chests of the living and sacrificed to the ravenous dead.

Author Notes

Ai was born Florence Anthony in Texas in 1947. She was of mixed racial heritage including Japanese, Choctaw-Chickasaw, African-American, Irish, Southern Cheyenne and Comanche. She legally changed her name to Ai, which means love in Japanese. She received an MFA in creative writing from UC Irvine in 1971. She received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975, fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978 and 1985, and the National Book Award for her poetry collection Vice in 1999. Her other works include Cruelty, Killing Floor, and No Surrender. From 1999 until her death, she was a professor at Oklahoma State University. She died of natural causes on March 20, 2010 at the age of 62.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ai's name is as terse as an element in the periodic table, and a symbol for a complex amalgam that is part African American, Japanese (Ai means love in that language), Choctaw, and Dutch, but this braided heritage rarely surfaces in her famously jolting poems. Ai prefers to write "fictions," dramatic, sometimes surreal monologues delivered by invented characters or headline icons. This form dominates her new work as well as the selections from her first four books, Cruelty, Killing Floor, Sin, and Fate. In the past, Ai has given voice to such figures as Jimmy Hoffa, J. Edgar Hoover, and Lenny Bruce. In her new poems, she scours today's news and writes about rapists, the paparazzi, Jon-Benet Ramsey, and a president embroiled in a sex scandal. Whatever one may think of Ai's poetics, her bold and searing performances constitute a key facet in the literature of cultural dissection. Dove is a far more lyric poet, and her poems are to be savored. She, too, is a storyteller, but for her the real action is on the inside, and her psychological portraits of mothers, fathers, and children are gently illuminating and arrestingly beautiful. In "Cameos," she traces the emotional fissures that run beneath the modest facade of a blue-collar family. The theme of self-betterment and a passion for learning runs through many poems, particularly those in a sequence titled "Freedom: A Bird's Eye View." Music animates Dove's supple lines as she praises Rosa Parks and all the unnamed heroines and heroes who calmly and firmly say no to what can and must be changed, and yes to what cannot. Sanchez, like Ai, has always been an outspoken and unflinching poet, innovative in her improvisations on meter and form. She moves from harmless-looking, short-lined stanzas that pack a wallop to jazzy prose-poems, giving shape and sound to every shade of mood, from blue to sensual, violent to celebratory. More than three decades of her work appear in this new retrospective volume, including concise early works from I've Been a Woman to prosy offerings from Homegirls and Handgrenades, and on up through four subsequent volumes, ending finally with four new poems. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

It is impossible to reconstruct the explosive initial impact of this poet's early work, which toys with American stereotypes, myths and truths in dramatic monologues that make everyone uncomfortable: "I move off. I let her eat,/ while I get my dog's chain leash from the closet./ I whirl it around my head./ O daughter, so far, you've only had a taste of icing,/ are you ready now for some cake?" In books like Cruelty (1973) and Killing Floor (1979), a midwife describes how "a scraggy, red child comes out of her into my hands/ like warehouse ice sliding down the chute," and the poet recounts how the dead brother of her lover "slides from the black saddle/ like a bedroll of fine velvet" while she makes love on the porch. In her third book, Sin, Ai (pronounced "I") struck an equipoise between narrative force and lyrical grace, represented here in poems such as "The Good Shepherd: Atlanta, 1981" and in several Chaucerian "Tales." The highly compressed lyric poems further evolve into extended narratives over the course of this selection, and by Fate (1991), they begin to turn more regularly toward cultural icons like Jimmy Hoffa and James Dean, while supplying enough of their own wattage to make it work. The newer poems, however, deteriorate into little more than lineated tabloid reportage of the likes of O.J., Monica Lewinsky and David Koresh (labeled "fictions"). While there seems to be an ambitious blurring of art and life attempted in these and other poems on lesser (!) figures, they don't quite yield fresh perspectives, or even the can't-take-your-eyes-from-the-screen force of the originals. Readers will nevertheless appreciate this summary of an impressive career as they await its next installment. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Ais poems provide an absorbing, gritty anatomy of desire you cannot satisfy. In this selection of 18 new poems and 58 from five previous books published from 1973 to 1993, agents of emotional and mental abuse describe horrific journeys into malice and the old fear. Transfigured by desire, speakers (a heroin addict, a paparazzo, a racist) who take extreme measures try to unravel the strands of equivocal motivation. What I always wanted/ was release from my own pain/ but theres only the terrible surrender to it, confesses the police officer who committed suicide before he was to receive a medal for rescuing people after the Oklahoma City bombing. Ais willingness to explore moral values in collision shines into the hearts of those doomed to be crushed. In Ice and Rwanda, she highlights the dignity and suffering of ordinary women, victims of inexplicable violence. Redemptive empathy transforms these unadorned narratives into documents that reveal the intense disintegration of body and soul. Richly rewarding, but not for the squeamish.Frank Allen, Northampton Community Coll., Tannersville, PA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter One     TWENTY-YEAR MARRIAGE You keep me waiting in a truck with its one good wheel stuck in the ditch, while you piss against the south side of a tree. Hurry. I've got nothing on under my skirt tonight. That still excites you, but this pickup has no windows and the seat, one fake leather thigh, pressed close to mine is cold. I'm the same size, shape, make as twenty years ago, but get inside me, start the engine; you'll have the strength, the will to move. I'll pull, you push, we'll tear each other in half. Come on, baby, lay me down on my back. Pretend you don't owe me a thing and maybe we'll roll out of here, leaving the past stacked up behind us; old newspapers nobody's ever got to read again.     ABORTION Coming home, I find you still in bed, 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.     THE COUNTRY MIDWIFE: A DAY I bend over the woman. This is the third time between abortions. I dip a towel into a bucket of hot water and catch the first bit of blood, as the blue-pink dome of a head breaks through. A scraggy, red child comes out of her into my hands like warehouse ice sliding down the chute. It's done, the stink of birth, Old Grizzly rears up on his hind legs in front of me and I want to go outside, but the air smells the same there too. The woman's left eye twitches and beneath her, a stain as orange as sunrise spreads over the sheet. I lift my short, blunt fingers to my face and I let her bleed, Lord, I let her bleed.     CRUELTY The hoof-marks on the dead wildcat gleam in the dark. You are naked, as you drag it up on the porch. That won't work either. Drinking ice water hasn't, nor having the bedsprings snap fingers to help us keep rhythm. I've never once felt anything that might get close. Can't you see? The thing I want most is hard, running toward my own teeth and it bites back.     THE TENANT FARMER Hailstones puncture the ground, as I sit at the table, rubbing a fork. My woman slides a knife across her lips, then lays it beside a cup of water. Each day she bites another notch in her thumb and I pretend relief is coming as the smooth black tire, Earth, wheels around the sun without its patch of topsoil and my mouth speaks: wheat, barley, red cabbage, roll on home to Jesus, it's too late now you're dead.     WHY CAN'T I LEAVE YOU? You stand behind the old black mare, dressed as always in that red shirt, stained from sweat, the crying of the armpits, that will not stop for anything, stroking her rump, while the barley goes unplanted. I pick up my suitcase and set it down, as I try to leave you again. I smooth the hair back from your forehead. I think with your laziness and the drought too, you'll be needing my help more than ever. You take my hands, I nod and go to the house to unpack, having found another reason to stay. I undress, then put on my white lace slip for you to take off, because you like that and when you come in, you pull down the straps and I unbutton your shirt. I know we can't give each other any more or any less than what we have. There is safety in that, so much that I can never get past the packing, the begging you to please, if I can't make you happy, come close between my thighs and let me laugh for you from my second mouth.     I HAVE GOT TO STOP LOVING YOU SO I HAVE KILLED MY BLACK GOAT His kidney floats in a bowl, a beige, flat fish, around whom parasites, slices of lemon, break through the surface of hot broth, then sink below, as I bend, face down in the steam, breathing in. I hear this will cure anything. When I am finished, I walk up to him. He hangs from a short wooden post, tongue stuck out of his mouth, tasting the hay-flavored air. A bib of flies gather at his throat and further down, where he is open and bare of all his organs, I put my hand in, stroke him once, then taking it out, look at the sky. The stormclouds there break open and raindrops, yellow as black cats' eyes, come down each a tiny river, hateful and alone. Wishing I could get out of this alive, I hug myself. It is hard to remember if he suffered much. Copyright © 1999 Ai. All rights reserved.