Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Aja Monet's My Mother was a Freedom Fighter

being policed for being
too poor
too much a shade
a color
a shade of color
too close to the root
too close to the color
               the shade
too close
to the color of a beating
being beaten
                    beating         heart

-- from "the first time"

Poetry doesn't have to be complicated or obscure. Poetry can pull out the sharp thorn of truth and hold it up in a way that would be pedantic or amateurish in fiction or essay. Poetry distills down what is so very individual into a sip that offers a brief flash of universal understanding.

Monet's volume of poetry grabbed me with the title; it had been on my radar as one of the 2017 releases to look out for. It ticked a box, too, for the 2019 Read Harder challenge. I read it in one night, gulping, then spent another two weeks moving back through the pieces slowly.

My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet
Haymarket Books, 2017
Copy from library
Read Harder challenge

Many pieces hit you like the headline of a news story, and carry the same weight and timeliness. It's impossible not to feel their emotional resonance (like "i'm just doing my job" or "america") and, depending on your identity, a dizzying sense of disbelief that this is still happening now.

This volume is full of lived experience, from the horror of watching her brother being abused by a police officer ("the first time" which I excerpt at the start of this review) to the lyrical beauty of "black joy". Some pieces were foreign to me, but the glimpses offered by Monet are suffused with tenderness, love, and devotion. Intimacy merged with social commentary; personal reflection that becomes political by virtue of living in a world that doesn't believe #BlackLivesMatter.


  1. I don't read much poetry but that title really draws me in so I'd give it a try.

  2. Oh wow, this sounds really good. God, Haymarket Books is just an excellent publisher; I always love poking through their titles to see what they have.