“When people say language has no power, let us not forget it was language—it was words—that got Trump into office.”
These were Aja Monet’s opening remarks at the Women’s March on Washington, before she read the titular poem from her new collection of poetry, My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter. The book, published this year, is Monet’s ode to women—mothers, daughters, and sisters—and the telling of their stories.
The poems within Monet’s work celebrate the stories and experiences of women, especially, and most importantly, women of color. She provides texture and feeling to their shared experiences of love, joy, and pain, and by letting their stories ring out through her own words, Monet allows readers to imagine, and yearn for, a world in which those voices are finally heard.
In a nation where bursts of righteous actions have often been kindled by artful words—from the masterful oratory of Martin Luther King Jr. to Eric Garner’s anguished pleas of “I can’t breathe”—Monet’s words could not have come at a better time. After an election in which even progressive presidential candidates relied on votes from people of color without including them in any meaningful way in their policy platform, Monet’s poetry re-centers and humanizes the experiences of women of color, surfacing their voices in the cause for social justice and political activism in a way that’s nothing if not inspiring.
Reading or hearing Monet’s poetry from this collection evokes images of women in all their complexity. Her poetry captures both the shared survival and the thriving grace of women in the face of racism, sexism, colonialism, displacement, and heartbreak. While Monet’s stories cross generations of women, her work has a certain relevance to our political present. As we conclude a year that was narrated by the undignified words and actions of a president who uses his power in a way that disgraces his office and the nation, I can’t help but think of how vital Monet’s poetry is to bolstering the shared experiences of generations and generations of women whose love, sacrifice, and resistance have laid the foundations of our own.
As this year underwent tremendous political and social transformation, it was Monet’s words that stayed with me, and assured me of the resilience and magic of women. Indeed, as her poetry unfolded on pages before me, it was impossible for me not to see the force in her words. Because she was right: Language is powerful, and it is her language—the intersectional celebration of the beauty and despair of womanhood across generations—that I believe will unite us, but only if we listen.
In her own words:
be not discouraged, be not dismayed
be defiant and deliberate