Last week in class, we finished unit six. In that unit, I asked students to hear, see, and draw a line of connection between black women in 1970s Black Power Struggles, Black Arts Movement, and contemporary spoken word artists. I received an email one night from one of my beloved students, Karina, who asked that I include what she saw as one of Aja Monet’s most impactful poem, “Is That All You Got?,” in the list of Monet poems that I offered. Here is that poem:
I was actually introduced to Aja Monet, the youngest national poetry slam winner, through my students, not through New York City’s poetry events. I can honestly say that I have never had a class of young people where someone did not know Monet’s work and this spans quite a few years of my teaching now. I am only now realizing that Aja Monet ‘s words and visions visit my classroom in each semester that I teach undergraduates. It speaks to me about what Monet is speaking to these young black men and women. In fact, Karina’s one request as a high school graduation gift was Monet’s book of poetry, a book I have now added to my own shelves. There are certainly a set of go-to essays and other texts that re-circulate back into my classroom and I know now to add Monet’s poetry to this set.
I have listened to this poem over and over this weekend, hoping to hear my students better. Mainly what I hear now is that they have been through some things, are looking back on it, and are seeing just how and why they are going to make it through because as Monet puts it: “Is that all you got? What the f**k is you broken for?” It’s a reminder that I am also thankful for.