vocalisms is a regular feature that presents selected tracks from voca, the Poetry Center's online audio video library of more than 800 recorded readings, spanning from 1963 to today.
The poet Ai (born Florence Anthony), grew up in Tucson and earned her B.A. at the University of Arizona. Known for writing persona poems (poems written in the voice of someone other than herself), Ai frequently wrote about violence and inequality. This track from Ai’s 1985 reading presents a rare instance of a poem written in the voice of another writer: James Wright, whom Ai describes as a uniquely American poet, one of the “few poets that you really feel like came out of the earth, out of the American soil.” “You belong to me, as much as I do to you,” Wright asserts to a personified America in the poem, attesting to his connection as he nears death.