Surrealist blues poet and community organizer aja monet has announced her debut album when the poems do what they do is set for release June 9th via drink sum wtr, a new Secretly Canadian imprint. As previewed by the recently released piece “the devil you know,” and the newly shared “castaway,” the album’s thematic origins center around Black resistance, love, and the inexhaustible quest for joy. She is joined on her journey by a potent roster of esteemed musicians, including Chief Xian aTunde Adjuah FKA Christian Scott (trumpet), Samora Pinderhughes (piano), Elena Pinderhughes (flute), Luques Curtis (bass), Weedie Braimah (percussion), and Marcus Gilmore (drums). Featuring additional vocals by bluesman Lonnie Holley, soul singer Eryn Allen Kane, DJ & host Novena Carmel and more. The songs throughout are insistent and unrelenting, with some reminiscent of jazz club virtuosity and melee while others act as a healing balm in gilead, moving like that of the call to intercessory prayer. The album is a potent demonstration of her indefatigable commitment to speak, her poems manifesting as a work of gravity that move constantly between origin and outcome, allowing them to exist in converse.
As a community organizer, poet, and teacher aja monet moves between mediums, each one an element to her writing. Organizing and activism manifest as part of a process toward liberation, with the poems, the music, and the art serving as the scribe of the time. Building off oratorical traditions, aja is the conduit for her predecessors to channel through. At any given time you’ll find the revolutionary spirit of Audre Lorde and the Last Poets, you’ll feel June Jordan, Amiri Baraka, Jayne Cortez and even the expressive ephemerality of a passing blue note. She has been a poet since youth, “I started writing when I was 8 or 9 — [but] I think I was a poet before I wrote my first poem.” She cut her teeth within the walls of the legendary Nuyorican Poets Café, where she won the title of Grand Slam Champion in 2007 at age 19, making her the youngest Grand Slam Champion in the venue’s history. After graduating from Sarah Lawrence College and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and living briefly in Paris, aja co-edited Chorus: A Literary Mixtape alongside poet-actor-director Saul Williams and published her first full length book of poetry called My Mother was A Freedom Fighter with Haymarket Books.
On when the poems do what they do aja monet appears as a woman of letters and storm, her poems do not roar in pentameter – but rather in storm surge because, “Who’s got time for poems when the world is on fire?!.” aja monet is a griot, a storyteller, a chronicler, and your grandmother telling you about her first love all at once. These aren’t poems for poets, but poems for everyone. When you reach the end of this album, you are left with a similar feeling you get when heartbroken, the gravity of barrelling back down to earth, sopping wet with tears, out of breath, overcome with love, despair, hope, and all too aware that all of this, is over far too soon. When the poems do what they do, they do absolutely everything.