My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet

by Claudia Rojas

Aja Monet’s My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter came into my life after someone spoke the words “So you like poetry? Read this.” At that point, the collection was in my hands before I could blink away the good fortune. Unknown to me, Monet’s poetry book was highly anticipated before its May 2017 publication date. If poetry, engaging poetry, is what readers want, this poetry book is it.

The collection is 146 pages of poetry divided into three sections: inner (city) chants; witnessing; (un)dressing a wound. Monet’s sentences don’t begin in capitalization. At several places, the sentences are without punctuation or minimal punctuation. This form may throw off some readers, but it should not discourage any reader.

I was personally attached to the shorter poems, though the poems that span two or three pages are equally insightful. The longest poem spans about five pages. In these pages, repetition and alliteration is used to create captivating rhythms.

In poems like “the body remembers,” personification of household objects comes across as natural and the images leave lasting impressions. The reader, as much as the abuser, can’t but imagine women out of their graveyards. Monet’s command of language is refreshing. Young adult readers and beyond will find themselves right at home with this collection.

The collection describes the experiences of mothers, daughters, siblings, and lovers through pain, disappointment, and struggle. What resonated with me is Monet’s readiness to show us what a mother is: not perfect. In poems like “birth, mark” the speaker, a daughter, is violently shaken and verbally abused by her mother. The anger is felt. The anger hurts. The anger is real. If it wasn’t clear to readers before picking up this copy, anger is a part of many women’s everyday life; women are the object of anger’s wrath or women stifle anger as their voices are silenced.

While many of the poems have a first person speaker, this doesn’t prevent a collective narrative. It’s not just Aja the poet speaking; it’s Aja as an observer and community member. We don’t have to pull names from the collection. There’s no need to distinguish autobiography from imagination because it’s all fair game.

In poems like “black joy,” a four page exploration on joy, Monet defines joy in little pieces and scenes. In poems like the title poem, Monet defines a freedom fighter in a similar way. These poems are a testimony to Monet’s engagement and love for her community. She wants to tell things in ways that will stick with us as she herself has been witness.

The zest in this book feels like debut instead of Monet’s second poetry book. Aja Monet is simply talented and was on tour for the collection from October through November 2017. Monet has a strong following through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, so her online audience ranges anywhere from 12,000 to 17,000 fans. Readings of these poems, along with author interviews, are also available on YouTube.

While this large following may be based on Monet’s slam and spoken word background, these poems undo hearts in their unspoken, written form. They come to us in an hour of need when being woman can get you killed in different parts of the world. My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter reminds us that women matter. These poems come to us from an activist’s core, her ache to be.

My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter gets 5 stars.

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