M. NourbeSe Philip
On 29 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. To commemorate the 239th anniversary, M. NourbeSe Philip, Saidiya Hartman, and Olivia Douglass discuss Zong!, with music from Rabz Lansiquot.
Philip’s acclaimed book-length poem is composed entirely from the words of Gregson vs Gilbert – the only extant document related to the massacre. Equal parts song, moan, shout, oath, ululation, curse, and chant, Zong! excavates the legal text to tell the story that cannot be told yet must be told. 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.
This conversation is a primer event for a forthcoming programme curated by Olivia Douglass that uses M. NourbeSe Philip’s work to articulate questions of race, silence, politics, and poetics. The three-day convening puts Philip’s work in dialogue with poets, writers, artists, and academics at the forefront of Black experimental writing in Britain.
Olivia Douglass is a British-Nigerian writer, poet, and curator. Her work has appeared in publications including Bath Magg, Prototype, PUB journal (Sandberg Instituut), in addition to being commissioned by the National Poetry Library. A Barbican Young Poets Alumna, her pamphlet Slow Tongue was published in 2018. She has held residencies with Talawa Theatre Company and Theatre Peckham, to develop her ongoing research project Palm as Portal. Her writing is concerned with articulating alternative visions of liberated Black queer experiences, away from colonial frameworks. Olivia was shortlisted for the Rebecca Swift Foundation’s Women Poet Prize 2020. She is currently working on her debut collection.
Saidiya Hartman is an American writer, researcher, and professor, whose major fields of study range from African American and American literature to cultural history, slavery, law and literature, and performance studies. Born and raised in New York City, Hartman has been a Cullman Fellow at the New York Public Library, a Fulbright Scholar in Ghana, a Whitney Oates Fellow at Princeton University, and a Rockefeller Fellow at Brown University. She is the author of three major works. Hartman currently teaches in the Department of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University and is working on a new project surrounding ideas on photography and ethics.
Rabz Lansiquot is a filmmaker, programmer, curator, and DJ. They were a leading member of sorryyoufeeluncomfortable collective from its inception in 2014, and now work alongside Imani Robinson as the artistic and curatorial duo Languid Hands, who are the Cubitt Curatorial Fellows for 2020-21. Rabz was Curator-In-Residence at LUX Moving Image in 2019, developing a public and educational programme around Black liberatory cinema. Their first solo exhibition where did we land, an experimental visual essay exploring the use of images of anti-black violence in film and media, was on view at LUX in Summer 2019. They have curated film programmes at the ICA, SQIFF and Berwick Film & Media Festival, were a programme advisor for London Film Festival’s Experimenta strand in 2019, and currently programme for Sheffield Doc Fest. Rabz is also training to deliver workshops in Super 8 and eco-processing at not.nowhere.
M. NourbeSe Philip was born in Tobago. She earned a BSc from the University of the West Indies and an MA and LLB from the University of Western Ontario. Philip was a practicing lawyer for seven years before turning full-time to writing. She is the author of works of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Her collections of poetry include Thorns (1980); Salmon Courage (1983); She Tries Her Tongue (1989); Her Silence Softly Breaks (1988), which won a Casa de las Américas Prize for Literature; and Zong! (2008), a polyvocal, book-length poem concerning slavery and the legal system.