This week in the PEN Poetry Series, guest editor TC Tolbert features two poems by M. NourbeSe Philip. About Philip’s work, Tolbert writes: “From the first time I read Zong! to my recent encounters with this new work in progress, I am continually trying to say what M. NourbeSe Philip has written – to vocalize and surrender to the sense that a body may make. Her work invites and insists that the reader participate in the making not just of the poem but of the fragment, word, and syllable. This is a way of (re)creating time. I have been changed by this poetry of present tense. A poetics of reclamation, responsibility, and shift. I turn to her for hope because in a language dependent on death she brings the body back to life.”

                                                                       ? (a work in progress)

rupert and his mother 
                                one such family
                                                                     wearing hair in dread
locks  furious
                                                     he will be killed
     young white woman
                                         falling apart
         deeply   spirit woman
                                                            aturday in august
the day of
                         thomas duchenne and sandra chang (san dee)
              getically pursue
                                              involved in a rel
badminton doubles                                          and they play compe
                                       sexual assault
            her place                                      he refuses
                                                                                      they agreed
especially against a wom


The Shelled Conch

summer of hot half-darkness
somnambulist feedings and 
baby is put to breast again,
against her feet
shell accretions of crustacean 
solid in the heat
protect the conch with the hard of white
        – layered – 
daughter                       inner
                shell of pink            aching 
space … negative-
no shell cold or hard enough
to protect the conch creamed white
alive,   eaten dead
                                   or some foot
                                   lonely in a reaching–out night
for the comfort of cold.


Once a week, the PEN Poetry Series publishes work by emerging and established writers from coast to coast. Subscribe to the PEN Poetry Series mailing list and have poems delivered to your e-mail as soon as they are published (no spam, no news, just poems).