In a 2015 political column for the Nation, four years before her death, Toni Morrison wrote, "There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal."
Many of Morrison's daughters and sons in writing have taken her words to heart and are putting them into practice.
One, Caribbean-American poet and Little Haiti activist Aja Monet, has created Homemade: An Online Poetry Reading for the People, which she describes as "a virtual poetry-reading series inspired by a holistic approach to healing that started by how we can still gather and create community to tell our stories."
Monet has been working with poets and artists from across the nation for more than 15 years, so it comes as no surprise to see her rise to America's current challenge. The poet who authored the 2017 collection My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter is accustomed to leveraging her love of language to speak truth to power when the personal becomes political.
"Healing belongs to the people and should never be commodified or weaponized," Monet says, pointing to a healthcare system designed so that the nation's poorest are continually paying the highest cost. "I wanted to address the material conditions people need while also addressing how we are struggling spiritually and mentally with this time. It is all connected."
Homemade, which streams on Facebook Live the first and 15th of every month — a nod to low-income families and working people who commonly receive their paychecks or government-assistance checks on those dates — runs the curative gamut, offering everything from recipes for home remedies to bolster the immune system to medicinal poems that "challenge us to confront our emotional landscape," as Monet puts it.
"We cannot be moved if we do not feel. I pray this pandemic affords all of us the time to explore our own creative inhibitions and to tap into our resourcefulness and our capacity to love," says Monet, invoking nature's balance. "There is a lot of horror and heartbreak happening during this time, and yet there is an incredible amount of beauty and creativity too."
Monet's method in selecting each segment's cadre of writers was key: "They are all poets, for the most part, who understand the social poetics of their work. I'm still figuring it out, but I am trying to gather poets in this time who recognize that poetry is a direct service and a material need."
April's lineup included the likes of Saul Williams, Mahogany L. Browne, Elisabet Velasquez, Yrsa Daley-Ward, Mayda Del Valle, Ursula Rucker, Vic Mensa, Lemon Andersen, Oshun, and Sunni Patterson.
"This is the time poets and artists get to work. And this is a different kind of work than anything we've ever experienced," Monet says. "Social distancing is demanding we stay away from each other and further isolating an [already] individualistic, capitalist society. This means that however we respond to this moment as artists and poets must be in an effort to commune."
This Friday's first of the month arrives in auspicious fashion — the holiday May Day honors essential and frontline workers. Viewers who tune in to the Homemade livestream can expect to hear from poets Staceyann Chin, José Olivarez, Sonia Guiñansaca, Ayodele Nzinga, Martín Espada, Ada Limón, and others.
"Whatever we imagine is real, so this is the time where artists decolonize the collective imagination — we create," Monet says. "The commodification of art has dehumanized us. We are all artists, and we must create everything in our lives with passion and care: our meals, our beds, our relationships, our systems. The multiverse is asking us to be still, confront, reflect. We can't go back to things the way they were. We must be and do life differently. We must become artists."
Homemade: Poetic Remedies for the Times #3. With Martín Espada, Wendy Trevino, Mark Nowak, Tyehimba Jess, and others. 7 to 10 p.m. Friday, May 1, via facebook.com/poetajamonet. Admission is free, but donations are encouraged through Venmo, Cash App, and PayPal.