Zong!: Chant, Death Rattle, Reclamation, Memory Creation
Historical Context - In 1781, the slave ship Zong was making its way across the Atlantic when the crew realized they didn't have enough water to make the passage. So, the captain ordered the 130 to 150 slaves to be thrown overboard to drown. When the ship arrived in Jamaica with 30 more dead slaves, its owners Gregson filed an insurance claim wanting their insurers Gilbert to reimburse them for "loss of cargo." Ensuing litigation maintained that slaves could be killed deliberately within the bounds of the law and that insurance companies could be obliged to provide compensation in those cases.M. NourbeSe Philip uses the words from the legal text of Gregson v. Gilbert - the only textual evidence off the mass murder - to create a series of poems that conjure a sense of memory that cannot exist of people whose story "cannot be told but must be told."
Reading Zong! is painful, frustrating, difficult. Some words and phrases and their repetition evoke more than feeling - something approaching but just short of meaning. But then closure, meaning would be cheap, illusory.
Many find watching M. NourbeSe Philip reading from Zong! especially powerful. Here is a clip.