I saw Aja Monet read at a poetry panel at the Miami Book Fair a couple of years back, and immediately knew I needed to pick up her book. It took me a while to do that because every time I went to look for it in a store, it was out of stock. That should tell you something right away. I finally found it at a store in Boston though, so I could finally read it!
My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter is a collection of poetry dedicated to the strength and vulnerability of women of color who straddle multiple worlds at once. The voice of so many of the poems feels soft, but strong, like a quiet passion. It’s feminine and reverent, like a prayer to a goddess.
Monet creates subtle, but powerful lines that evoke a primal emotion, like these:
"i cannot tell the difference
between her wailing and mine
my mother does not know
we are sisters"
In poems like “ree ree ree,” Monet uses solid images to convey a simultaneous sense of womanhood and the weight that comes with that identity, as well as freedom from identity afforded by childhood:
"how black and brown girls
gather and peel
comparing stretch marks
and playground scars."
Poems like “the young” give a raw and visceral feeling with images that pound on you as hard as the piece’s rhythm itself. This combination of detailed imagery with disciplined rhythms works to make a piece of art that hits hard.
The poems with short staccato lines create spitfire lyricism, while those with longer lines create a rich and lush cadence that conveys a sense of reverence. Monet is also adept at the use of space around words and on the page to convey sound instead of silence. The visual structure of the poems makes it feel like the blank space between words is louder than the words themselves.
Monet’s specific choice to use no capitalization and very little punctuation also plays into this sense of prayer within poetry. The collection reads as a series of pleas from the men, women, and children from the speaker’s world of simultaneous joy and sorrow.
While the first section focuses more on the power of femininity, the second part of the collection contains a cry for justice. Once again, Monet’s use of space and structure create a visual plea on the page that conveys a sense of urgency that evokes the pain behind the pleas.
The third part of the collection hones in on intimate relationships that have shaped the speaker. In the piece “selah,” Monet states:
"i love my body
when it is with your body"
This language shows a total vulnerability and insecurity that many people have, and yet in that vulnerability there is strength. It’s a personal sentiment, but one that is universal, and that’s what makes Monet’s work so brilliant.
The collection ends with a salient call to “always, be.” It’s a statement that ties the whole book together and reaffirms the very title of the collection, because the speaker knows that merely to exist is to resist, an act that those in the margins are all too familiar with.
I highly recommend this poetry collection to those who want to dive into work that lifts the voices of those who were once made voiceless. It contains so much emotion and power that long after reading, it lingers with you.
Has anyone else read My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter? What are your thoughts on the collection? Any particular poems that stood out to you? Let me know in the comments!