Listen to Brooklyn poet Aja Monet read, and you’ll immediately be drawn in by her strong voice. Monet is a young poet, vibrant and warm but also balancing a worldliness and sophistication which surpasses her age. She’s got a presence and voice that you can trust to guide you through her work, to take you where she wants you to go and to lift you up. To elevate you. At the same time, Monet has a genuineness, and she’s not taking herself too seriously — the video above, which includes poems from her book The Black Unicorn Sings shows the serious Aja alongside the candid Aja, which makes her all the more inspiring.
Opening with the poem “She Sweats” featuring the lines: “I was on my way to change the world somewhere / I don’t really remember where exactly, / I was in a hurry though” we see this balance. Aja is out to change the world, she admits that she’s finding out how to do that, and she wants to bring you along.
Throughout Monet’s poems in The Black Unicorn Sings, she returns to strong female characters, and sometimes to broken female characters that need some uplifting. In both of these cases, Monet is celebrating the spirit of women and what they are capable of, with herself often as a primary example of this. In the video and poem above, we see that Freedom is personified as a woman. “Freedom’s smile is a contagious spirit, / a rattling song of the heart.” This is a bold testament to women, as the speaker speaks about Freedom with affection, as she would a friend, and she catches her smile and goes on her way. In addition to Freedom, God is a woman in Monet’s poem “The Way Heaven Moves” – Monet writes “God wears her soul / around her waist / like fertility beads” and goes on to be in awe of her. “What a woman / laughing up a storm / in the sky” she continues.
These female personifications lay strong bedrock for the interpersonal moments that take place in Monet’s collection of poems. In the poem “Ree, Ree, Ree” the speaker tells of deep female friendship, and the closeness of women intimating their secrets to one another, no matter how personal. “Black and brown girls / gather and peel / comparing stretch marks / and playground scars.” The tenderness of these moments and these poems is in their complexity. They are not just elevating the obviously beautiful, but bearing witness to and supporting the flawed, the less-than-beautiful, the struggle too. Monet is shining a light on the strength of women in all circumstances, and her own light shines through in doing so.
We’re so excited to welcome Aja to the main stage of the Dodge Poetry Festival next month. I’d like to end on an up note for women, with some lines from Monet’s poem “GROW”:
Mud woman, stop building shrines to your past.
what earth have you left for yourself to love
like this, returning to your mother’s home
of curses and witchery, slick tongue of fire and regrets.
You are a drop of miracle.
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For more information on the 2014 Dodge Poetry Festival and Program,
visit our website dodgepoetry.org