A poetic sequence using the 1841 slave revolt aboard the brig Creole as a lens through which to view the vitality of Black lives and the afterlife of slavery.
In 1841, the only successful, large-scale revolt of American-born enslaved people erupted on the ship Creole. 135 people escaped chattel slavery that day. The event was recounted in US Senate documents, including letters exchanged between US and British consulates in The Bahamas and depositions from the white crew on the ship. There is no known record or testimony from the 135 people who escaped. Their story has been lost to time and indifference. Quenton Baker’s ballast is an attempt at incomplete redress.
With imagination, deep empathy, and skilled and compelling lyricism, Baker took a black marker to those Senate documents and culled a poetic recount of the Creole revolt. Layers of ink connect readers to Baker’s poetic process: (re)phrasing the narrative of the state through a dexterous process of hands-on redactions.
ballast is a relentless, wrenching, and gorgeously written book, a defiant reclamation of one of the most important but overlooked events in US history, and an essential contribution to contemporary poetry.
“Quenton Baker’s ballast is a beautiful, hard and necessary book. Raging, electric, precise and elegiac. It is a lamentation in three parts. A brilliant refusal; a black perseverance."
—Christina Sharpe, author of Ordinary Notes
“Ballast is erasure executed at the most exacting level. Erasure as excavation. Erasure as return. As in: return to the people what they are owed. Even when what they are owed is irrecoverable, though in these luminous [re]nderings, Baker gets us closer to beginning to understand how much has been lost, and returns us to ourselves, as the best poets tend to do. Not since Zong! has there been such an insistent polyvocal reckoning with the histories of the enslaved through the study of colonial documents. This collection is an example of the care and scholarship we should all be striving for.”
—Marwa Helal, author of Ante Body