On Writing

Poem 49 – The Poet for Phillis Wheatley Peters

The Poet
For Phillis Wheatley Peters

age seven
seized in Senegal
sentenced to slavery
one tender body in
a shipment of shame

under a robe of dirty rug
slender child nearly naked
suffering the vived change
in climate and freedom –

the ship captain in haste
her frailty no reason to
stutter sells her to
the Bostonian Wheatly whites

before dusting but after dishes –
reading and writing
a daily gift given to the
child eager to learn

her mind adventuring in astronomy
gaining in geography hurling into
history lusting for literature and
blessed by the Bible – decided

poetry comes like the dawn
naturally necessarily and
the parade begins
slave poet published
among the whites
pressed like a spine
against the slave-ship
dungeon wood
enslaved and educated
the dynamic duo dazzles

by 13 her words splashed
in the Rhode Island Mercury
‘On Messr. Hussey and Coffin’
but her Whitefield elegy put
to pamphlet and broadsheet
elevates her to national renown

the Wheatley wife defied the
resistance of her peers and
with asthma weighing down
her lungs she sailed to London
where the presses were
less hateful

the young woman
then 18 with 25 poems
to her credit is supported
by a wealthy abolitionist countess
who helped get a book to bound

Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral
ink dried and distributed in 1774
the poetess becomes the first
African American to publish a volume
of poetry ‘in modern time’

adoring the couplet
exercising the elegy
her poetry demonstrating
form and fervour
her heart and mind
delivers a destiny
raising religion and respect
to patrons and presidents

and then a slashing shift in time
manumitted in 1774 – the sorrow
of the dead white wife a cloak
on her page the ‘African genius’
feels her place between
servant and slave in
the fog between
family and freedom

through war and recession
marriage and childbirth
poetry flows like tears
until illness wrapped in
destitution was the frontier
of the page on which she created

on the threadbare hem of America’s
own struggles for freedom the
poetess advertises her second
collection – 33 poems 13 letters
for publication and left in the gutter
with the wrinkled daily news
soaking in the easy drowning
of yesterday’s hollering dreams

still perseverance pursues
she publishes more elegies and
a 64-line poem Liberty and Peace
said poem being the corner fold
on the last page of her book of Life

her husband behind bars
Death becomes the poetess
she dies alone – a daring participle
going gone being been seeing seen

Death took with him her body and blood
and much of the ink she dripped from her soul
a life in letters and literature slammed
into staggering stanzas of poetry
continues untethered into today

captured by an ignorant system
exploited by a cruel race
critiqued by unkind peers
Phillis Wheatley Peters
radiant slave child
wrapped in a dirty rug
weaves poetry into
the torn-up fabric
of freedom’s frantic

Research: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/phillis-wheatley

3 thoughts on “Poem 49 – The Poet for Phillis Wheatley Peters

  1. wonderful Vanessa!

    she’s a favourite of mine – she’s one of my Wonder Kids in my book…

    On Thu, 18 Feb 2021 at 12:06, VANESSA SHIELDS, writer wrote:

    > Vanessa Shields posted: ” The PoetFor Phillis Wheatley Peters age > sevenseized in Senegalsentenced to slaveryone tender body ina shipment of > shame under a robe of dirty rugslender child nearly nakedsuffering the > vived changein climate and freedom –shivers the ship captain” >


  2. Vanessa , this is wonderful! I did not know about Phillis Wheatley Peters.

    I’m thinking she laid the groundwork for Amanda Gorman. Wow!



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