Zong! is NourbeSe Philip’s book length poem published by Weslyan University Press, and by The Mercury Press in Canada. This extended 182 page poetry cycle is composed entirely from the words of the case report, Gregson vs. Gilbert, related to the murder of Africans on board a slave ship at the end of the eighteenth century,
A haunting lifeline between archive and memory, law and poetry
The video links below show a few of the more than 60 readings/ performances of Zong! that NourbeSe has presented in nine countries. These events include eight annual durational collective readings held on the anniversary of the Zong massacre. The 2020 reading will run for 10 days beginning November 30th 2020.
The case report Gregson vs. Gilbert, recounts the massacre by drowning of some 130 enslaved Africans over the course of ten days beginning on November 29th, 1781. The captain of the eponymous slave ship, Zong, having made many navigational errors resulting in extending the length of the voyage from West Africa to Jamaica ordered the Africans be thrown overboard so as to allow the owners of the ship, the Gregsons, to claim indemnity from their insurers, the Gilberts. When the insurers refused to honour the contract of insurance, the ship’s owners initiated legal action against them, which proved to be successful. Upon appeal, however, the insurers, the Gilberts were granted a new trial. The report of that hearing, Gregson vs Gilbert constitutes the only extant, public document related to the massacre. Through fugal and counterpointed strategies, Zong! explodes the coded, documented silence of the historical text to become an anti-narrative lament that tells the story of this haunting and tragic massacre: it cannot be told yet must be told; it can only be told by not telling.
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.
Zong! has also presented in three dramatic performances by theatrical directors and excerpts of Zong! have been used in six different visual arts installations by different artists in five countries.
Zong! Performances -a selection
This clip has video excerpts that include: names of Africans that are part of Zong!, projected on the night sky as it would have been over West Africa at the end of November 1781, and accompanied by whale song; the 2018 performance at the Royal Ontario Museum, held in the presence of reliquary figures and artifacts from the museum’s collection; the Living Memorial for the Victims of the Zong Massacre perfumed in Miami’s historic Virginia Key Beach Park in 2018; the 2015 collective durational reading, Zong! Behind Closed Doors, featuring dance by Vivene Scarlett; and the 2016 durational reading also featuring Vivene.
This clip begins with the 2015 durational reading and include excerpts from 2013 durational reading, a performance at Arika in Glasgow, Scotland, in , an improv performance and choreography inspired by Zong! by dancer Ida Mara Freire, all in 2013
Other videos are available on NourbeSe’s YouTube channel
A dramatized reading of this new poem cycle, was workshoped and presented at Toronto Harbourfront as part of “rock.paper.sistahz” in April 2006.
This production was directed by Diane Roberts with actors Andrea Henry, Andy Marshall, Lili Francks and Xuan Fraser. Yvette Martin was the stage manager with Natalie Wood and Mark Prince as contributing artists.
a dramatized reading
by M.NourbeSe Philip
In 1781 the captain of the slave ship, Zong, murders, by drowning, one hundred and fifty Africans so as to collect insurance monies. Through fragments of voices, shreds of memory and shards of silence, Zong! unravels the story that can only be told by not telling.
workshop dir. Diane Roberts
April 13, 2006, 8pm
Harbourfront Centre Studio Theatre