Rachel Kaufman argues the ‘archival poem brings to bear the rhythms of the past through the language of the present’ (2021: 21). Indeed, it is a unique genre for its ability to ‘hold in balance discordant images and thoughts’ (26) in its presentation of dissonant simultaneities—a quality critical to representing historical traumas, particularly those related to slavery and race. Through processes of disassembling and fracturing, archival poetry exposes the silences and redactions within ‘official’ histories by marking and blurring the borderlines of past and present, subject and object. Examining M. NourbeSe Philip’s Zong!, poetry grounded in the materiality of archival sources, this paper explores how the past might be defamiliarized to reveal that which is hidden or suppressed. In doing so, it contends that creative practice engaged with the archives offers the subversive potential to resist totalising historical accounts, whilst conveying the complex horrors of racial violence and oppression.
Archival untellingin M. NourbeSe Philip's 'Zong!'