Zong!: Layout & History

These poems threw me for a loop. I was not expecting the layout to look the way it did at all. His was the first time I have ever read something with this layout, so I was having to restart and reread many of these to make sure I was comprehending everything that was going on. It made my eyes hurt a little, which I wasn’t really a fan of, but the overall experience was interesting.

My first impression of the layout reminded me of the concept behind blackout poetry. I forgot who said it, but someone in class mentioned that it looked like some information or the rest of the sentence was missing, which would go along with my thought of blackout poetry. I also noticed that the layout didn’t stick to one format, if that makes sense. Some of the pages were set up in columns, diagonals, ovals, and some that didn’t have any specific shape, it just looked like a bunch of words on a page, more so than they already to.

I really liked the line that she kept repeating throughout the whole essay. “There is no telling this story; it must be told.” I like how she recognizes the fact that the events that took place during this time is something that she herself would not be able to fully understand and write about from her point of view. Even though none of this happened during her lifetime, and the information she gave was from a person that may or may not have existed, she still understood this was not her story to be told.

The content of the essay was really shocking. In school, you learn about slavery and its role in American history, but not a lot, if anything, about it from different countries around the world. We may be told that slavery did not just happen in America, but that’s about it. We don’t get any other information unless we do the research, which most likely won’t happen. So, it was intriguing to read about how slavery worked in another country.

Zong! – Format and Racism

In M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, the unusual and confusing format of the poetry proposes a large question: why did Philip decide to tell the story of the Gregson v Gilbert legal case and enslaved people in a manner that demands dissection, deep background, and intense analyzation? Philip’s use of format is directly tied to the unimaginable case that is being told. The case, which involves a ship that has been misguided and was not prepared for extended travel, states that slaves either died due to the lack of food and water or they “were thrown overboard for the preservation of the rest” (210), illuminating the fact that during this era, enslaved people were taken with less regard and were valued less than food and water to keep the white people on board alive. The lives of the enslaved were seen as just another provision; however, less than the provisions that are necessary to keep a human alive. Philip utilizes the format of her poetry in order to portray the case and a much larger picture. The words are written in a way that is difficult to understand and digest, much like the story that Philip is sharing. Philip connects her format to the story because to understand how one can trade another’s life for food is unfathomable, much like the poetry at first glance. To understand both Philip’s work and the history behind the enslaved people, there is an abundant amount of analyzation that must be done, further alluding as to why Philip chose a complex and complicated way to tell the story. Tracy K. Smith’s poem, Declaration, also discusses the issue of human rights in yet another unproportionate format, “He has plundered our- ravaged our- destroyed the lives of our- taking away our-.” Smith does this for the same reason that Philip does, to illustrate the fact that the poem is not easy to read; therefore, neither is the content laced throughout the poem.