Award-winning poet empowers audience

Bre Berkebile, Staff Writer

“A poem is a process rather than a product,” performance poet Aja Monet said to a captivated audience March 30 in Whalley Chapel.

Monet, who is of Cuban-Jamaican decent, is the youngest winner of the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe Grand Slam title for her poems that touch on serious global problems such as racism, poverty and police brutality, as well as other topics such as experiences as both a mother and a daughter.

“It’s important to write the hard stuff,” Monet said during the hourlong reading before she began her poem “The First Time”, which is about the first time she disliked a cop.

Freshman Ebonie Davis, who said she genuinely enjoyed being in Monet’s presence, agreed with her on the importance of writing the hard stuff.

“The taboo things don’t usually get talked about because that’s what they are; they’re taboo,” Davis said.

“The only way the hard stuff can be normalized is if it’s spoken about.”

She added that it allows people who are going through a hard time to know they’re not alone.

Davis said she enjoyed Monet’s last poem, “Black Joy,” a poem that goes beyond seeing life in terms of good and bad, but in terms of justice or injustice, freedom or slavery, and encourages those listening to be strongly in the moment.

She said she thinks the poem was relatable to everyone in the chapel.

“I think everyone could’ve found something in that poem to relate to, and it spoke to a lot of people, not just one group,” Davis said.

Mikala May said Monet’s poems were about hard topics, which made them more relatable.

She said she found the poems to be inspirational.

“If she can get through all the hard times in her life, it made me feel like I can get through anything that the world throws at me.”

May said that she thought Monet was talented and that she would love to see her perform again.

Professor Eric Schwerer said that, like Davis, he was moved by Monet’s last poem.

“I love the idea that blackness need not just be about skin color, but also about an attitude,” he said.

“‘Black Joy’ asked that I identify, at least in some ways, as black, and I gladly do so.”

Schwerer said that language wants to matter and to be material, but phrases such as “real world,” “collateral damage” and “peacekeeper” are dangerous and obnoxious to a point where they threaten to mean nothing.

“Nothing is worse than a lie,” Schwerer said.

He said that cliches, dead metaphors and euphemisms are the enemies of freedom, liberation and honesty.

“Somewhere between Hallmark cards and America’s love of sexual crime and torture lives the hard stuff.”

He said there is nothing more real or more human than the hard stuff.

Schwerer said he imagines that Aja Monet, being a black female educator and teacher, must experience some exhaustion explaining topics such as racism, American history and stereotyping, to white audiences.

“But, nonetheless, she does so with grace and patience,” he said.

“My big takeaway from Aja Monet’s reading is that we – everyone – needs to shut up, sit back, breathe and listen to what black and brown women have to say.”