Zong! By M. NourbeSe Phillip

The word ‘Zong’ and the events referred to are unknown. The tragic loss of 150 slaves thrown overboard during the ship’s journey to the New World is an act of brutality that has not been mentioned in the books one comes across in high school or even university classrooms. The brutality, message, and magnitude of the event are left unheard to almost everyone not studying Caribbean Studies.Why such an important event in the American history is often ‘brushed under the carpet’? Keeping the story alive and continuing to examine its significance, for history and humanity, is a taboo.

Philip’s aim with her poem is an answer to the question, or maybe a continuity of keeping the story alive and make the modern America reflect upon it. Sharing the thoughts and experiences of the slaves on the ship is a work in process in understanding the event and its outcome. She offers no answers to the reader about the event, only puts them in a new world, like the slaves, to relive the mortifying experiences they have and find their way towards salvation( a chance the slaves did not have).

The poem itself is wild and split intentionally, but reading it aloud should bring an emotional state, an intellectual meaning, and a raw connection. Philips’s choice of reducing the language to just sounds (grunts and moans) is a technique so the reader will actually feel he’s there, he is hearing the desperation of those poor souls, he is feeling as powerless as the slaves on the ship. I have read in an article, that hearing Philips herself read the poem is heartbreaking, making the listener feel as one of the slaves on the ship, in their last moments before perishing.

She treated this poem with an incredible self-devotion and understanding, carefully researching into the event and putting into ‘verse’ her genuine desire of sharing the pain of the slaves aboard the ship.

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