“Because Phillis Wrote” by Aleta Greene

Happy Poetry Friday, everyone!

Sylvia Vardell and Janet Wong are hosting this week’s round-up at Poetry for Children. (Sylvia and Janet know how to throw a good party, so be sure to stop by and enjoy all that’s on the poetry menu.)

Two quick bits of business before we get to the good stuff:

  • Are you participating in the Read a Poem to a Child incentive? (Go to this post to find out more.) If you’ve got a video recording to share, feel free to drop the link in the comments. I’ll include it in my Read a Poem to a Child post later this month.
  • Which Poetry Friday friends are coming to NCTE 2019? The conference is in Baltimore this year, hon! Liz Steinglass and I are hosting a “Poets of Kidlit” get together on Wednesday evening, November 20. PF regular Kat Apel will be here from Australia. We can’t wait to meet her and share some Charm City crab cakes. Stay tuned for details.

Today, I’d like to introduce you to multi-faceted artist Aleta Greene. Speaking of reading poems to children, Aleta has been working on a website where she reads and posts “rest-inducing poetry and stories to assist people, including the little ones, to sleep.” For more info on that project, check out Aleta’s Go Fund Me page.

With the permission of Aleta and our mutual friend, poet/photographer Linda Joy Burke,  I share this sample today. Aleta is the reader of Phillis Wheatley’s poem “On Imagination.” Linda Joy produced the video. What a beautiful way to engage with this poem!

If you would like to read the full text of the poem, it is posted at the Poetry Foundation. I recommend reading the accompanying biographical entry on Wheatley, which begins, “Although she was an African slave, Phillis Wheatley was one of the best-known poets in pre-19th century America.”

And here is Aleta’s art collage, “Because Phillis Wrote.”

“This contemporary scribe has her head full of poetry and a look that says, ‘Puh-leeze! Of course, I can.'” Art by Aleta Greene.  Click on the image to enlarge.



Aleta describes the image this way, “‘Because Phillis Wrote’ … was done fingertip to android device screen, as are all of her [Aleta’s] drawings with no added apps or software. Mixed media with photos – 2018 by Aleta Greene.

“Inspired by the poem ‘On Imagination’ by Phillis Wheatley (1753?-1784), the first African-American author to be published in book form. All Miss Wheatley needed was to be taught to read and she could take it from there. This contemporary scribe has her head full of poetry and a look that says, ‘Puh-leeze! Of course, I can.'”

Need more art in your day? Follow Linda Joy’s photography on Instagram.

27 responses to “Two Poet/Performers Reimagine Phillis Wheatley’s “On Imagination””

  1. Ah, what a marvelous reading by Aleta, and magical-moving poem by Phillis Wheatley–the collage image is wonderful too, I love the words making up her hair, thanks Laura!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      It’s so powerful. I feel like, in Aleta’s reading, any archaic language falls away and the power of the imagination flies straight to my heart.

  2. I recently did some research on Phillis Wheatley for a project I was working on. I adore this art piece because of her attitude. It seems that women with that kind of outlook, “I dare you to question me”, can move beyond the stereotypes and oppression. She’s an icon.
    (I’m kicking myself for making my flight reservations before I heard about your NCTE gathering. Perhaps you’ll consider moving it to Thursday evening?)

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Hi, Margaret. I’m sorry you won’t be here on Wednesday! It’s the only night Kat is available, so the date is definite. Let’s find time to meet up.

  3. Linda Baie says:

    I knew some of Wheatley’s life from a research project in my class long ago, Laura, & enjoyed reading the piece you shared & loved the video of her poem, a haunting reflection. Your evening at NCTE sounds wonderful!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      Thanks, Linda. I didn’t learn of Phillis Wheatley or read her poetry until graduate school. Women poets and playwrights, especially pre-1950, were erased.

  4. Liz says:

    I absolutely adore that collage. Wow. I’m so glad you mentioned our poets’ dinner!

  5. tanita says:

    WOW. Her earrings re-imagined as fountain pens – just gorgeous. What a stunning image.

  6. Tim Kulp says:

    Thank you for sharing! I am planning on attending NCTE2019 in November. As a Baltimore person, it’s right around the corner (figuratively speaking). I was not familiar with Phillis Wheatley prior to your post here. Looking forward to learning more!

  7. Linda Mitchell says:

    Hooray for a Wheatley poem! I love that she showed up on the page against all odds. Such beautiful language…and spoken it becomes more so. I’m getting used to performance poetry bit by bit. It’s not how I learned poetry or came to it. But, I admire those that bring words to life in this way. Thank you for this rich post! I”m planning on being at the NCTE shindig!

  8. How wonderful! I love this new focus on something old. And Aleta is a gem– wow!
    Looking forward to seeing you and so many poets at NCTE too!

  9. Molly Hogan says:

    What an interesting project Aleta is working on! I love the idea of “rest-inducing” poetry and the video is a wonderful collaboration of two artists and a beautiful arrangement of spoken word and images. I adore that head “full of poetry” in the collage. On another note, now I’m trying to plot how I can get to Baltimore for NCTE!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I feel the same way. This is a beautiful collaboration of Wheatley’s words, Aleta’s voice, and Linda Joy’s images.

  10. This is perfectly marvelous! It is so soothing and peaceful. Thank you for sharing this!

    • Laura Shovan says:

      I felt the same way, Kiesha. I love the way Aleta’s recitation starts in a whisper and grows stronger by the poem’s end.

  11. KAY MCGRIFF says:

    Wow! The video/reading of Wheatley’s poem is wonderful, as is the collage. I love these creative tributes and imaginings of a creative icon.

  12. Wow, it never really occurred to me to combine poetry and ASMR, but I guess it makes sense. Unfortunately, “whispering” videos kind of have the opposite effect for me—I don’t find them relaxing—but it IS a beautiful video production and the collage is outstanding! Your NCTE gathering with Liz sounds wonderful.

  13. Joyce Ray says:

    I love Aleta’s reading and Linda Joy’s video. Beautiful! Aleta’s image is fantastic, as well. Hooray for Phyllis Wheatley! I know of her but had not read her poetry. Thank you for this lovely post.

  14. Laura,
    I finally am getting around to read the PF posts I did not read initially. I am excited that you were able to access my short video with my granddaughter via Google Hangout. I always love reading to her and she loves reading back. It is adorable watching her point to words and “read”. I am going to NCTE but not until Thursday so I am sorry that I will miss the get-together and Kat in person. I would love to meet up with you and Liz during the weekend though. I always loved sharing Phyllis Wheatley’s life with students. Aleta’s vision of this remarkable woman is remarkable. Her gorgeous artwork and gentle reading of Wheatley’s poem is amazing. I was not able to find Aleta on Instagram but not Joyce. Thank you for sharing all the poetry goodness.

    • Laura Shovan says:

      You’ll find Linda Joy’s instagram account under @birdpoet. Thanks, Carol! Looking forward to sharing your video for Read a Poem to Your Child day.

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Laura Shovan

Laura Shovan is the author of the award-winning middle grade novel, The Last Fifth Grade of Emerson Elementary. Her second book, Takedown, is a Junior Library Guild and PJ Our Way selection. Look for A Place at the Table, co-written with Saadia Faruqi, in 2020. Laura is a poet-in-the-schools Maryland.

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