Ai in 1972
Ai in 1972 Photograph by LaVerne Harrell Clark, courtesy of The University of Arizona Poetry Center

In 1979, a book of poetry by a writer known simply as Ai caused a small sensation in the literary world. Killing Floor—Ai's second book of poems—won the Lamont Poetry Prize of the American Academy of Poets, an award chosen by such peers as Philip Levine and Maxine Kumin. It launched the her into the upper echelons of literary society, where she earned further awards, endowments, and a position teaching at Oklahoma State University.

The power of this early work has diminished and fallen out of discourse over the years because Killing Floor went out of print. But ever since Carl Adamshick, main editor of Portland non-profit poetry press Tavern Books, stumbled across a copy, he and his team have been working to republish the book and bring Killing Floor to contemporary readers.

Courtesy of Tavern Books

A successful Kickstarter campaign this summer helped Tavern republish Killing Floor to celebrate the book’s 40th anniversary. Tonight there's a reading to celebrate the release at The Metropolitan Lounge at Union Station. Poets Stephanie Adams-Santos, Sara Guest, Jenna Marie Fletcher, Mary Haidri, and Zachary Schomburg will read from the book. Schomburg also provided the artwork for this new edition.

Tavern Books is the perfect new home for Killing Floor. This relatively young press (not yet 10 years) made its mark with revivals of long out-of-print works and translations of non-English language poetry for Western readers. Most importantly, one of their main goals has been to support young female poets through their Wrolstad Contemporary Poetry Series. Since 2013, they’ve held open submissions (the current one wraps up on January 15th), accepting manuscripts from female/female-identifying U.S. poets under the age of 40. To date, their Wrolstad Series has produced some truly great work from poets like Megan Levad and current Wrolstad winner Elena Cisneros.

Ai’s work fits with the rest of Tavern's bibliography in manys, but most noticeably in its sheer brute force. There’s a vital socio-political edge to Killing Floor. Ai attempts to reckon with the horrors of the past, acknowledging everything from the violence that occurred in Mexico following the election of Manuel Ávila Camacho to the tragic life of Marilyn Monroe. Killing Floor holds important messages of empathy and survival that many still need to hear.