For this month’s Famous People post, Ai’s “Hoover, Edgar J.”
The poet Ai’s is usually summed up with something along the lines of “noted for her uncompromising poetic vision and bleak dramatic monologues” (Poetry Foundation bio). The first couple times I tried to read Vice, her National Book Award-winning new and selected from 1999, the bleak and uncompromising part turned me off. But friends kept recommending her because I write dramatic monologues, so I went back. My initial take: the 1st person (all her dramatic monologues are in 1st person) sometimes works well , and sometimes sounds like the poet putting words/metaphors the character wouldn’t actually say into their mouths, to less effect.
One poem I do like though is “Hoover, Edgar J.” It’s a long-ish, tight, fast-moving poem with internal rhyme that takes soundbite/quotation/political colloquial and pushes it to poetry without sounding like ‘poetry.’ The tension of line and speech holds things taut here, and the character painted, right in line with J Edgar’s pop culture persona (I don’t know much about his deep biography), is complex and fascinating (and a little scary).