M. NourbeSe Philip is a poet and writer and lawyer who was born in Tobago and lives in Toronto. She has published novels, essays, and poetry, and was the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry and a Rebels for a Cause award from the Elizabeth Fry Society of Toronto. Zong! is NourbeSe Philip’s most recent book of poetry. This extended poetry cycle is based on a legal decision, at the end of the eighteenth century, related to the murder of Africans on board a slave ship.
In November, 1781, the captain of the slave ship Zong ordered that some 150 Africans be murdered by drowning so that the ship’s owners could collect insurance monies. Relying entirely on the words of the legal decision Gregson vs Gilbert—the only extant public document related to the massacre of these African slaves—Zong! tells the story that cannot be told yet must be told. Equal parts song, moan, shout, oath, ululation, curse, and chant, Zong! excavates the legal text. Memory, history, and law collide and metamorphose into the poetics of the fragment. Through the innovative use of fugal and counterpointed repetition, Zong! becomes an anti-narrative lament that stretches the boundaries of the poetic form, haunting the spaces of forgetting and mourning the forgotten.