In 1972, (when I was seven years old), I wrote my first poem. This began my lifelong love and devotion for a literary form that has brought me tremendous joy and comforted me during tremendous sorrow.
My mother always encouraged my creative passions. She bought me poetry books by William Shakespeare, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson; these imaginative geniuses framed much of my childhood. Their poetic words are burned into my brain. Most people know my penchant for referencing or reciting their poems.
On May 21, 2016, I published my first poetry book. Last year was a thrilling year for me as I achieved my long held goal of becoming a published poet. I am so grateful.
One of my earliest childhood fascinations was Phillis Wheatley, a slave and the first female African-American published poet. I remember when I first discovered Phillis Wheatley. Again, my seven year old self was so enamored by this young woman who lived her life in oppression as a slave, yet allowed her poetry to soar free.
I first read Wheatley’s poem, “On being brought to Africa to America,” more than 40 years ago. I still resonates with me:
“Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought not knew
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
Their color is a diabolical due.
Remember, Christians, Negroes, black as Cain
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.”
Phillis Wheatley was one of my earliest role models. She died at the age of 31. But her poetic legacy has endured for over 200 years. For the little African-American girl like myself who found poetry and who found a hero in a quiet slave with a powerful poetic voice, I thank Phillis Wheatley.