Biography of Ai Ogawa
Florence Anthony was a National Book Award winning American poet and educator who legally changed her name to Ai Ogawa. She won the National Book Award for Poetry for Vice.
Ai, who has described herself as 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.
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 Selection 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.
Ai considers herself as "simply a writer" rather than a spokesperson for any particular group.
Much of Ai's work was in the form of dramatic monologues. Regarding this tendency, Ai commented:
"My writing of dramatic monologues was a happy accident, because I took so much to heart the opinion of my first poetry teacher, Richard Shelton, the fact that the first person voice was always the stronger voice to use when writing. What began as an experiment in that voice became the only voice in which I wrote for about twenty years. Lately, though, I've been writing poems and short stories using the second person, without, it seems to me, any diminution in the power of my work. Still, I feel that the dramatic monologue was the form in which I was born to write and I love it as passionately, or perhaps more passionately, than I have ever loved a man."
She legally changed her name to "Ai," which means "love" in Japanese. She said "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."
Reading at the University of Arizona in 1972, Ai said this about her self-chosen name: "I call myself Ai because for a long time I didn't want to use my own name, I didn't like it... it means love in Japanese. But actually I was doing numerology, and A is one and I is ten and together they make eleven, and that means spiritual force and so that was the name I wanted to be under. And it also means the impersonal I, the I of the universe. I was trying to get rid of my ego. I can also write it as an Egyptian Hieroglyph."
The Guggenheim- winning poet, died on March 20 at age 62, of complications from cancer, in Stillwater, Oklahoma.
Ai Ogawa's Works:
Killing Floor (1979)
Vice: New and Selected Poems (1999)
Dread: Poems (2004)
Why Can't I Leave You?
No Surrender ( 2010)
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Ai Ogawa Poems
"Sit in my hand." I'm ten. I can't see him, but I hear him breathing
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.
Dear Saint Patrick, this is Peggy, Or maybe it's Pegeen to you, Well, I'm really Stella Mae. Peggy's my nickname
Riot Act, April 29, 1992
I'm going out and get something. I don't know what. I don't care. Whatever's out there, I'm going to get it.
Passage For Allen Ginsberg
Sunflowers beside the railroad tracks, sunflowers giving back the beauty God gave you to one lonely traveler who spies you from a train window
1. RUSSIA, 1927 On the day the sienna-skinned man held my shoulders between his spade-shaped hands, easing me down into the azure water of Jordan,
Woman to Man
Lightning hits the roof, shoves the knife, darkness, deep in the walls. They bleed light all over us
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.
Barquisimeto, Venezuela, October 27, 156...
Today it rained vengefully and hard and my men deserted me.
My sister rubs the doll's face in mud, then climbs through the truck window. She ignores me as I walk around it,
I scissor the stem of the red carnation and set it in a bowl of water. It floats the way your head would,
"Earth is the birth of the blues," sang Yellow Bertha, as she chopped cotton beside Mama Rose. It was as hot as any other summer day,
Nothing But Color
I didn't write Etsuko, I sliced her open. She was carmine inside
Overhead, the match burns out, but the chunk of ice in the back seat keeps melting from imagined heat,
When the rooster jumps up on the windowsill
and spreads his red-gold wings,
I wake, thinking it is the sun
and call Juanita, hearing her answer,
but only in my mind.
I know she is already outside,
breaking the cane off at ground level,
using only her big hands.
I get the machete and walk among the cane,