Meagan Reads Poetry: My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter by Aja Monet

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!

Poetry Review: Past Life Invisible by Daniel Haskin

It took me some time to get through this and finally get around to reviewing it, not because it’s a slog to get through (far from it), but rather just due to my hectic schedule. I would like to summarize my overall thoughts about this collection with the statement that it is a reader friendly compilation. Many people are often uncomfortable with poetry because they feel it might go over their heads or that they won’t be able to glean anything from it, but Haskin’s Past Life Invisible does not take that route. Haskin’s poems still create sensual and beautiful images with deft lyricism that a poetry connesieur can appreciate, but it never feels like it goes over the head of the average reader who enjoys the occasional poetry collection.

 

past life invisible
Image from Goodreads

The poem “Wintersong” is a good example of the lyricism I spoke of. The lines “Hollow and shopworn/Praying to your god of thorns/Lonely pages torn…” have a melodic rhythm that you can easily put a beat to. In the poem “My Dark Age,” the opening stanza of “The things I now see/Inside my dark cruelty/The lines of my palms/Like red rivers running…” holds that same rhythmic quality that makes Haskin’s pieces sound like songs ready for a musician to adopt. While many writers struggle to adequately use a traditional rhyme scheme to create poetry, Haskin uses the tool adeptly in a way that melds tradition with contemporary style.

The images throughout Haskin’s poetry are often simple, yet convey layers that leave the reading open to interpretation. Phrases like “false colors of autumn” from “Cancer Season” create a sense of vague images, and yet the reader knows exactly what the speaker means by that statement. It’s intuitive. In “Mollytide” the speaker uses sensuous diction like “dark and decadent” or “embrace you like smoke” to create a titillating piece with words meant to be spoken between lovers, but which the speaker allows the audience to see behind closed doors.

Haskin appears to have made a conscious decision not to include punctuation (or rather sparingly) throughout all the pieces, without a single poem ending with punctuation. It conveys this sense that while every poem has a beginning, it doesn’t necessarily have an end, and feels like the speaker of each piece has drifted out of their own trailing thoughts. However, because of this stylistic choice, the few times punctuation is used within a poem, it stands out and is jolting, coming off as typos that made it past the final editing process. The rare stray comma in a line can really stop that lyrical flow the writer so deftly created, so the inclusion of such marks should have been more carefully curated.

Overall, I think it was an excellent collection of poetry and I give it 4 out of 5 stars. If you want to delve into poetry, then this might be the place to start.