Dread: Poems

This new collection by Ai embraces the dramatic monologue in a bone-deep reminder that poetry’s origins are in performance. Starting with poems addressing the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Ai avoids elegy in favor of testimony, including that of a woman who so desperately wants to belong to a country coming together in the aftermath that she reinvents herself as a victim. The weakest poems in the volume are those drawn directly from her own experiences growing up as an American Indian, Japanese and African-American girl in the Southwest. It seems that Ai is better at wearing the skins of strangers, as in the cycle of poems about Tulsa’s race riots of the 1920s. The final poems, “The Psychic Detective” series, are a combination of CSI and Crossing Over. They’d make a great movie. How many poems can that be said of?