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In conversation with poet Aja Monet

07 Nov 2017

Aja Monet’s giftedness and esteem in the poetry sphere has allowed the activist to travel and perform across the globe. She’s graced stages around the world, always leaving audiences in awe by her storytelling. The same wonder was witnessed at her latest show in London on October 22nd.  An intimate crowd gathered in the upstairs lounge of Total Refreshment Centre consumed by Aja’s powerful flow.

In between poems she opened up about her life. Aja moved to Paris – the first time the poet ever lived outside of New York – a leap that proved to be eye-opening. Moving to another country, not speaking the language, and observing and living in a different culture, broadened her sense of community, and of home. This consciousness is something she looks for every time she travels.

Performing across continents and resonating across cultures was not something Aja thought about when she first began writing and reciting poetry. While people in London, Paris, and Belgium knew her name and felt the depth of her words across oceans, being internationally established wasn’t a goal of the humble poet. The importance of her grasp only came into fruition when she started travelling. “To be able to see the reach of my work is kind of eye-opening in itself,” she says. “It gives you a context for what you’re doing, and I would hope it would straighten your back and get you to kind of live with a little more dignity, and more humility and patience.”

By Jonathan Shoemaker / Aja Monet / Facebook

But widespread recognition and popularity is not necessarily liberating – particularly for someone like Monet, who says she urges to do better for herself and those around her. She admits the weight of her reach is somewhat daunting: “it became more like a feeling of pressure. It makes me feel like I have to be more accountable and I have to learn more.”

While she is grateful to be blessed with the privilege to travel, she reiterates she isn’t just doing it to perform, but to learn, meet people and forge new relationships. “I want to know that I have people, not just folks applauding you and sitting there and giving you ego gratification, because that wavers. That changes with the day. I need people that are going to hold me when I’m wrong, and when I don’t say things right, and when I need to be challenged, and when I need to be pushed.”


“When she talks about being a black woman in America, tells of the first time she hated a cop, and calls out capitalism, she is beckoning a movement and calling for a community”


Meeting such people and building relationships is a reflection of what Aja hopes to come of her social lens. She tells stories of pivotal moments in her life, offers in depth reflections of worldly oppression and activism, questions the powers that be, and odes the strength of women. She doesn’t just do this with the aim of getting audiences to relate – she also writes to process her own experiences while instilling a learning desire in her listeners. Aja isn’t telling us what to do or sharing for the sake of sharing, but pushes us to create community through questioning, learning, and unlearning because of the power of her poetry. This goes beyond goosebumps or shivers down your spine.

When she talks about being a black woman in America, tells of the first time she hated a cop, and calls out capitalism, she is beckoning a movement and calling for a community. “I don’t share things for you to understand or feel me, I’m sharing something so that we can change the conditions we are living in and we can do something about it.” This isn’t about affirmation or self satisfaction – what she wants is for us not to be moved to resonation, but moved to action.

As I sat across from Aja, and she discussed parts of her book My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter, I sensed her urgency for solidarity.  It seems her travels are an extenuation of finding this community.

In some ways, travel seems to be this commodity – something people do because it’s what everyone one is doing. With a plethora of travel blogs out there, so many yearn to see the world. It’s good that the internet keeps us open to travelling, but when social media becomes our point of reference, it makes you question the intent. I think about this as I’m scrolling. Are your explorations spurred by the drive to get the perfect Instagram shot? Or are you immersing yourself in a new culture, challenging your outlook of the world, counting your blessings, and connecting with the people? Are you learning?

“I think it really is revolutionary to travel,” says Aja.