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Tearing Up the Bowels of American Society Through Dramatic Monologue a Study of Some Poems by Ai 1947

Tearing Up the Bowels of American Society Through Dramatic Monologue a Study of Some Poems by Ai 1947

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Tearing up the Bowels of American Society Through DramaticMonologue: A Study of Some Poems by Ai (1947- )
This paper attempts at a study of Ai's innovative use of theBrowningesque dramatic monologue to tear up the bowels of the Americansociety which is fractured at heart. Such a fracture leads to either violence or sexas a way out. Ai, pseudonym of Florence Anthony, comes from a multiracialfamily with a Japanese father and a mother partly black, Choctaw, and Irish. Shecannot escape cultural definition; yet, she refuses to be labeled and categorizedas a “black poet”. Rather, she destabilizes cultural categorization and makes useof her multifaceted identification since she likes to be known as “black andJapanese” or “Japanese and black”.Through her use of Browningesque dramatic monologues, Ai disturbssettled identities and calls cultural boundaries into question. She does not writeabout herself; so, she used to preface her readings with a statement that shehadn't been pregnant and had never had an abortion "because people tended to believe all those things in Cruelty had happened to me. Which seems prettynaïve" (Bellamy)
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. She wants to give voice to normally silenced andmarginalized characters in contemporary society:Since the late 1970's, many women have exploited theform of the monologue to give voices to those whowere silenced or to subvert patriarchal representationsof women (Byron 136).It does not mean that she is not completely on the scene. There is a tincture of anautobiographical element in her Cruelty poems. Part of her early sad life showsitself in the book. When Kearney asked her if her early life appeared in her  poems, she said:Hmmmm . . . Sorrowful? That life is sad, or is most of the time. In Cruelty you just see that side of it. As a child,there were good times, but they were always eclipsed by bad times. It's like I haven't been able to accept that I'man adult, that the bogeyman isn't just around the corner.Of course, that's something one goes to therapy to dealwith. When I was a child in San Francisco we never hadenough money, and my stepfather would go down to thestreet and borrow some. He'd buy a hamburger and cut itin half for my sister and me for supper. Sometimes he'dspend the whole day borrowing money and by the next
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2morning he'd have gotten some polish sausage and gritsand we'd have milk and maybe even fried potatoes. Butmost of the time we just had S.0.S.—shit on a shingle. Tothis day I hate biscuits, because they were always theshingle. Bad times just around the corner. (Bellamy).Her poems teem with different voices that express fracture, violence,revenge and sexual hunger to emphasize a sense of human disorder thatencompasses every stratum of the society. To this effect, in her review of Vice: New and Selected Poems, Jeanette Lee writes:Her poetry has been criticized for being violent andrife with sex. However, violence and sex do not makeappearances for the sake of titillation but arenecessary parts of the stories her characters tell abouttheir lives in contemporary society. Sadly, if Ai'sdramatic monologues are violent and beset with sex,it is because ours is a violent and sex-obsessedsociety. (Lee)Her style is tough-edged as if her poems were carved with a knife. Of her booksare Cruelty (1973), Killing Floor (1979), Sin (1986), Fate (1991), Greed (1993),Vice (1999) and Dread (2003).
Dramatic Monologue
Defining the "dramatic monologue" is very problematic concerning bothits nomenclature and its nature. The confusing definitions ranges from what thenineteenth century poets called "
 Dramatic Studies, Dramatic Lyrics
and
 Dramatic Idylls
" (Byron 2) to the critics' contribution to the dilemmatic name as'mental' or 'psychological monologues'(Byron 2). The importance of thedramatic monologue lies, not in animating the past, but in questioning historystressing the fact that reconstructing history is a partial attempt (Byron 5).However, the importance of the dramatic monologue ebbs and flows:At the end of the nineteenth century…interest in thedramatic monologue began to decline…the speaking'I' fragments into multiplicity of voices…Althoughthe dramatic monologue was by no means the central poetic form during the first part of the twentiethcentury, the work of such poets as Charlotte Mew andLangston Hughes suggests it survived in a far healthier sate than is generally assumed, and that it
 
3did so primarily as an instrument of social critique.(Byron 5-6)Once more, during the last twenty years, the dramatic monologue has flourishedas an effective means of questioning social and political conditions. However,contemporary monologues often have a tincture of feminist politics, differ fromearlier ones since:…they present an incongruous 'I' which conflates theHistorical or fictional speaker's world with thecontemporary world of the writing poet, consequentlydrawing more attention than ever before to questionsof representation. (Byron6-7)Thus the form and content hold a reciprocal relationship; i.e., a social and political critique is best represented through dramatic monologue.A powerful and a potentially persuasive form of poetry, the dramaticmonologue suits poets who have something to express. It has been extensivelyexamined by modern literary critics concerning the relationship of speaker,silent listener and the poet. Robert Langbaum sees the dramatic monologue as a poetic innovation, a combination of lyric and dramatic elements. Suchinnovative combination may be found in modernist poets' works (Sorce). In"The Dramatic Monologue" (1947), Ina Beth Sessions defined sevencharacteristics that should be found in any perfect dramatic monologue:"speaker, audience, occasion, revelation of character, interplay between speaker and audience, dramatic action, and action which takes place in the present".(Byron 8). One of the best examples which follows Sessions's taxonomic list of characteristics is Browning's "My Last Duchess".Unlike the lyric, and contrary to the New Critics' opinion, the speaking 'I'is not connected to the poet. While the reader, guided by the poet, lives insidethe speaker in the lyric, he/she stands back to have a better understandinglooking at the speaker of the dramatic monologue. In fact, the speaker and the poet can not be conflated. The distinguishing signals may be referred to in thetitle as in Browning's "Porphyria's Lover", or in cross-gendering as in Ai's "TheTenant Farmer". However, sometimes these signals are not found, which makesdistinguishing the dramatic monologue from the lyric more difficult. AlanSinfield tried to solve the problem by using the idea of the 'feint' developed byKäte Hamburger in her exploration of fictional narrator (Byron 13). Thanks toSinfield's idea of the feint, many poems are identified as dramatic monologues:The idea of the feint also allows Sinfield to make such poems as Tennyson's 'Oenone' (1832) or 'The Lotus

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