One can get a pretty good idea of where the poet Ai was coming from by scanning the titles in her bibliography: Cruelty, Killing Floor, Sin, Fate, Greed, Vice, and Dread. To say she was a poet who carried a rather dark view of human character, or to say she was an in-your-face provocateur, or that she was a feminist, or a voice for the ethnic hybrid who is so often cast as Other--who is allowed to belong nowhere, is to diminish her art. Yes, she was all of those things and would, I think, unapologetically tell you so, but those labels do not touch her verbal dexterity, her skill with the rhythms of speech, nor her inventiveness.
Her ideas about us--the human community, and us as individuals--were preternaturally dark. but I think she did see at least the possibility of redemption, in witnessing, in truth-telling, and in facing ourselves dead-on--not our reflections in some metaphorical mirror--ourselves dead-on and unblinking.
Portrait of Ai, courtesy of the Poetry Foundation.