a basket of poetry and writing from Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner


Why College of the Marshall Islands is divesting from fossil fuels – and why your institution should too

A few weeks ago I was called into the office of the President of the College of the Marshall Islands (CMI) Carl Hacker, to discuss his big announcement: that he would be pushing for CMI to divest from fossil fuels. All we need next is approval from the Board of Regents, which could possibly happen within a few weeks. “It only makes sense,” he said simply. “If we don’t – who will?”

This was the same question I asked when I conducted training on divestment for student leaders from the Student Body Association (SBA), Peer to Peer, and the Environmental Club here at CMI, just a week after my conversation with the President. The training was led by me and the Vice President of the College, William Reiher, who gave a presentation on renewable energy and the different ways in which we as an institution have been leading in that field as well.

While our islands may seem small, businesses for the banks here is profitable and growing. It’s a moral imperative that as banks continue to grow in the region they must side with the people, not the polluters. About 28 trillion dollars are invested in the fossil fuel industry – and it’s this money that is going towards buying out politicians and funding climate deniers. What so many people don’t realize, is that a lot of that money is our own money.

So during my divestment training, I stood in front of student leaders here at CMI, and I told them what I’ve recently realized. That our college must join this movement. The recent IPCC report says that by 2050 global electricity needs to be low-carbon, and that to get right on track, the world would have to cut fossil fuel investments annually between now and 2029, and use that money for renewable energy.

With all this looming on the horizon, CMI is in the perfect position to take that step to divest. CMI is the only college of the nation – we are teaching and shaping the next leaders of our country. Leaders who will have to deal with either a harsher climate reality than the one that exists now, or a future of transition and change from fossil fuels to greener energy. They are the ones who will inherit the future of these islands – they need to understand the fine print on the warning label.

And we’re hoping it won’t just be our college divesting. This move is triggering and connected to the launch of the Pacific Divestment Campaign, being supported by the Pacific Climate Warriors of the 350 Pacific network ( Universities, colleges, organizations, and financial institutions, such as ANZ management, must align their money with their morals. They need to make socially responsible investments because it’s completely unacceptable for them to make profit off the destruction of our islands.

Students in the Pacific especially need to come together and take an active role in this movement. Historically, college students have always been the leaders of major social movements. And this – the climate struggle – this is in our backyard – this our islands. This is the fight of all students in the Pacific.

After the divestment training, the SBA announced that they will be hosting a “Divestment Spirit Week” this coming week. I am so proud of these students for taking this initiative on their own to raise awareness amongst their fellow students. Among the activities will be classroom presentations on what divestment means, an essay and poster contest, a painting of a mural, and activities for each day of the week. “This is a really important and critical step not just for our college, but our country as well, in trying to protest against some of the major contributing factors to climate change,” they wrote in an email to the student body. They are taking the next step – and hopefully our Board of Regents will listen.

So this is a shoutout from CMI to the rest of the colleges, universities, and organizations around the Pacific to join us in this movement, and to take that next step to divest from fossil fuels. I mean hey – if our students can demand divestment from their institution, yours can too.

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4 Ways the New Top Environment Senator Disagrees With Science


This has me seriously worried about the climate movement.

Originally posted on TIME:

Sen. Jim Inhofe is widely expected to take over the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee now that Republicans have won control of the Senate, putting one of Washington’s most strident climate change deniers in charge of environmental policy.

In his 2012 book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future, the Oklahoma Republican argued that climate change science has been manufactured by liberals to scare the American public, push through anti-business regulations and sell newspapers, and that humans should do nothing to regulate greenhouse gases.

Problem is, Inhofe’s opinions are deeply at odds with the overwhelming consensus of the scientific community, both in the U.S. and abroad. Here’s just a few ways how.

Human activity

Inhofe: The Senator says hundreds of scientists dispute the idea that global warming is the result of human activity.

Science: 97% of international scientists working in fields related…

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An apology to Taro Islanders and Solomon Islanders

I have to admit that I’ve been putting off writing this particularly blog post for a while now. It’s hard to admit when you make a huge mistake, and it’s even worse when you do it on a global scale. So here goes nothing.

I wrote a poem, two months ago, called “dear matafele peinam” dedicated to my daughter, speaking on climate change that was performed during the opening of the United Nations Climate Summit. There are three different video versions of this poem on youtube – one has been viewed 108,125 times, another 93,135 times, and still another 220, 563 times. I’m not saying these numbers to show off (in light of how many views a cat playing with a dog will get, they’re actually not all that impressive). I’m saying these numbers to highlight just how many people have witnessed my horrifically shameful mistake.

In my poem I have a stanza in which I say,

no one

is drowning, baby

no one

is moving

no one

is losing their homeland

no one

is gonna become a climate change refugee

or should i say 

no one else

to the carteret islanders of papua new guinea

and to the taro islanders of fiji

I apologize to you

We are drawing the line here

Early on when I was writing this poem, my mentor suggested to me that I include that stanza referencing islanders who have already had to move because of climate change (Carteret Islanders and Taro Islanders).  This was an opportunity to highlight the fact the climate change is real and happening now, but also to honor these islanders by saying their names, not just giving some vague, veiled reference. I decided to do some research to make sure I got the details of their move and their islands correct. What I found was an article on entitled “Meet the First Pacific Island Town to Relocate Thanks to Climate Change,” which highlighted Carteret Islanders and Taro Islanders:

What happened next was that I wrote into the poem, “Carteret Islanders of Papua New Guinea” and “Taro Islanders of Fiji” just so people would know what bigger countries these small island towns and cultures were affiliated with.

Unfortunately, Taro Islanders are not from Fiji. They are from the Solomon Islands.

I have no idea how I made this mistake when I read the article. The words “Fiji” and “Solomon Islands” are not even remotely close – nor is their culture, history, or people. And I’m not even sure Fiji was even mentioned in the article!

What I know is that I was reading the article fast, and writing the poem fast, because I had a deadline to finish and memorize the poem within a week, Matafele Peinam screaming in the corner because she wanted to be picked up, and a bunch of lesson plans to write and papers to grade for my students. I also know that none of these are viable excuses.

As a Pacific Islander, and even as a Pacific Island Studies Master’s student, I should have known better. I have had my fair share of, “All you Micronesians look the same” and “How is Pohnpeian and Chuukese different from Marshallese” and I’ve also had people mix up Micronesians with Polynesians, and tell me that all islanders must be the same etc etc. I know how much it means to be recognized – to be really recognized. To have someone say “I know where the Marshall Islands is.” Especially when the rest of the world doesn’t seem to know who you or your people are. I also know that in Pacific cultures, name and place are valuable – it’s how you know your roots and your connections.

And so, with this all in mind – I sincerely apologize. To the Taro Islanders and to all Solomon Islanders. For taking away what should have been a moment for them to be recognized – their moment to have their islands and their struggles brought to light.

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microwomen everywhere


Absolutely loved this blog post from someone who’s work and research I’ve admired over the years, amazing Kiribati scholar, poet, and educator Teresia Teaiwa.

Originally posted on microwoman:

i’ve just come back from a 48 hour academic writing retreat with some colleagues and students. before i unplugged and re-oriented myself towards long overdue and neglected projects, i was excited by some of the stuff that was coming through my social media feeds, which made me think that this might just be the year it rained microwomen!

the first micronesian item to come through my feed earlier this week was this interview with milañ loeak, a young woman from the marshall islands who was one of 30 activists from the pacific who this past october raised a significant amount of international awareness about climate change by paddling canoes out into a major australian port to blockade the huge ships that export coal from there. this was part of a campaign organized by the international NGO :

the next micronesian item to come through my feed was a notice about…

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Three Weeks after the UN Climate Summit or Coming Home to a Climate Reality


*This is an article I originally wrote for the UN-Non-Governmental Liason Services E-Magazine, three weeks after returning home from the United Nations Summit. 

It has been three weeks since I spoke and performed “Dear Matafele Peinam” at the United Nations opening of the Climate Summit. Three weeks, and still I am processing the amazing whirlwind that was the few days I had spent in New York, marching with over 3,000 others at the People’s Climate March and meeting dignitaries from all over the world. Yes, for a small island girl from the Marshall Islands, the entire thing was overwhelming, amazing, and thrilling.

At the time, I had no idea what kind of reaction and response I would receive for the little poem I had written. I only knew that I wanted to write a poem that was true to my story – something my daughter could read years later, perhaps when she is my age now, and understand that we were doing more than just standing by and waiting for a change to come. That we were standing up, speaking out, and taking fate into our own hands.

After all the interviews, photos, hand-shaking, and flying thousands of miles, coming back to home to my island of Majuro, was huge a relief. My family welcomed me at the airport with signs and tshirts with my name on it, playing the ukulele and singing of how proud they were. It was their support that meant everything to me.

Unfortunately, coming home was not all ukulele songs and congratulations. It was also coming home to the stark reality of living with climate change. This past Friday, we received a warning of a significant high tide at 5 pm. What should have been a mere high tide ended up turning into swells and huge waves that engulfedseawalls, flooding and damaging homes and roads. Many families were directly affected.

As I was making my way home after a long day of teaching, I saw cars inching carefully along roads completely littered by debris, rocks, and coral. The level of debris and how far they were from the shoreline demonstrated the power of the waves. There was a quiet, hushed energy in the air, as if each of us were holding our breaths – reminded once again, of just how vulnerable we were.

At one point, I decided to take pictures of the damaged homes so I could send it out over social media. While I was taking photos, a man called me over. He stood in the pool of water that was up to his ankles in his yard. “Take a picture of our house,” he said. “Maybe this will go to the U.N.”


The scary part of this event is the fact that it happened during this time at all – it isn’t even the “King Tides” season yet. King Tides periodically occur when the sun and moon align and the moon’s orbit passes closest to the Earth. These generally occur during the winter and the summers, and are usually when the waves are the most dangerous, and when the damage is the worst. Sea level rise, however, is exacerbating both our King Tides seasons as well as our seasons of high tides.

During the last King Tides of March, my cousin’s home, which had been there for more than 20 years, was completely leveled by the water. Since then they’ve had to move from rental to rental, trying to find a home they can afford, and taking out loans to pay for a new house to be built. I’ve seen the stress and financial burden exhausting her and her father, as they struggle to make do with her paycheck as a 1st grade teacher, and his as an employee of the government.

I spoke with Reginald White, the Meteorologist in Charge from our Weather Station, about this past week’s inundation. “We have more than 50 years of sea level data and incidences. But from my experience, these wave inundations are getting so much more frequent,” he told me. “Every time there is something like a high tide, the weather station is immediately on alert. And it didn’t used to be like that.” According to Reginald, we can expect more events like the flooding from this past week in the coming months – only worse – since it will be the actual season of King Tides.

All this weekend, I’ve been wondering what are possible solutions – what can we do besides continue beating the climate-change-is-real drum until someone listens to us? What can we do for the people who are affected now? Who, like my cousins and the man in the photo, are just struggling to survive?

One way is to create a fund for those affected directly. We at the non-profit organization, Jo-Jikum, have created a climate donation fund to assist those whose homes have been damaged by climate change events such as high tides, king tides, and drought. 100 percent of these funds will be given directly to those families, to assist them and alleviate the stress and financial burden caused by these events. To donate, please visit our website at The website is still a bit rough, under construction, but at the very least we have a place to collect funds now, so that we can be prepared for the next climate disaster.

Our politicians will continue the good fight in the global arena to have our voices heard and to create effective policies and changes. I have the utmost faith in our leaders. But this climate fund from Jo-Jikum is one tangible way to help those who are suffering right now, at this very moment. Those who are just trying to survive.

In the meantime, I will also do everything I can to continue the momentum from the Climate Summit. It was one step. A big step. But climate affects like these wave surges will only continue to get worse, and more families throughout the world will continue to struggle. Which makes the climate movement that much more important. But as I told Matafele Peinam, we are going to fight. And we are spreading the word. Because we really deserve to do more than just survive. We deserve to thrive.


United Nations Climate Summit Opening Ceremony – A poem to my Daughter

On 23 September 2014, I  addressed the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit. I performed my new poem entitled “Dear Matafele Peinem” written to my daughter. My full statement, along with a live performance of the poem, can be viewed below, followed by the studio version, and the full text of the poem itself:

The clip below is a studio version which was recorded before the actual performance.


dear matafele peinam,


you are a seven month old sunrise of gummy smiles

you are bald as an egg and bald as the buddha

you are thighs that are thunder and shrieks that are lightning

so excited for bananas, hugs and

our morning walks past the lagoon


dear matafele peinam,


i want to tell you about that lagoon

that lucid, sleepy lagoon lounging against the sunrise


men say that one day

that lagoon will devour you


they say it will gnaw at the shoreline

chew at the roots of your breadfruit trees

gulp down rows of your seawalls

and crunch your island’s shattered bones


they say you, your daughter

and your granddaughter, too

will wander rootless

with only a passport to call home


dear matafele peinam,


don’t cry


mommy promises you


no one

will come and devour you


no greedy whale of a company sharking through political seas

no backwater bullying of businesses with broken morals

no blindfolded bureaucracies gonna push

this mother ocean over

the edge


no one’s drowning, baby

no one’s moving

no one’s losing

their homeland

no one’s gonna become

a climate change refugee


or should i say

no one else


to the carteret islanders of papua new guinea

and to the taro islanders of the solomon islands

i take this moment

to apologize to you

we are drawing the line here


because baby we are going to fight

your mommy daddy

bubu jimma your country and president too

we will all fight


and even though there are those

hidden behind platinum titles

who like to pretend

that we don’t exist

that the marshall islands




and typhoon haiyan in the philippines

and floods of pakistan, algeria, colombia

and all the hurricanes, earthquakes, and tidalwaves

didn’t exist



there are those

who see us


hands reaching out

fists raising up

banners unfurling

megaphones booming

and we are

canoes blocking coal ships

we are

the radiance of solar villages

we are

the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past

we are

petitions blooming from teenage fingertips

we are

families biking, recycling, reusing,

engineers dreaming, designing, building,

artists painting, dancing, writing

and we are spreading the word


and there are thousands out on the street

marching with signs

hand in hand

chanting for change NOW


and they’re marching for you, baby

they’re marching for us


because we deserve to do more than just


we deserve

to thrive


dear matafele peinam,


you are eyes heavy

with drowsy weight

so just close those eyes, baby

and sleep in peace


because we won’t let you down


you’ll see









Spoken Word Poetry vs Page Poetry

“How is spoken word different from page poetry?” This question seems to have a pretty basic answer: one is written with the intention of being performed, or spoken aloud, while the other is written specifically for the page.

I’ve always felt that spoken word is more accessible to the average audience than written page poetry. I don’t know many people who actively choose to sit down and read books of poetry (besides other poets). But, many more are willing to listen to poetry – especially if that poetry was easy to follow and catchy. However, I don’t want to make it sound like spoken word is dumbed down poetry – it’s definitely not. It takes a lot of skill to be able to write something that’s easy to read, easy to hear, and easy for many people can connect to.

Before I put out youtube videos of my poetic performances, I had published my poetry in the newspaper back home in the Marshalls. Only a few people actually read those pieces (some cousins actually complained to me that they couldn’t/wouldn’t read them cuz they were too long). But when the youtube videos came out, quite a number of people came up to me saying that they had read my poetry before but didn’t really get any of it until they heard it. Most of these people were Marshallese. And I figured out that the reason they were able to understand it a lot easier is because our culture is essentially an oral culture – we’re great listeners, but reading and writing is still a bit of an isolated skill set. Spoken word, however, is able to bridge that gap between storytelling and poetry.

Originally, when I thought of spoken word, I immediately thought of slam. Slam is the competitive version of spoken word, and requires poets to keep their poetry to 3 minute performances, without the use of props or any other devices, and forces audience members to score the performance on an a scale of 1 to 10. This criteria can be limiting to the art form, but it can also force poets to create wonderful pieces under a guideline like any poetic form. It wasn’t until I took a spoken word class with a former mentor of mine that I was able to open up to the different forms that spoken word can take beyond slam poetry. Spoken word can last longer than 3 minutes – it can sometimes expand to 1 woman shows, or use props and clothing that add to the performance. My favorite, that I’d love to experiment with at one point, is performance with extra audio files, or performance with slide shows. One of my mentors even uses a coconut grater on stage while poetry plays in the background.

So how does page poetry fit into this? Well, first off, I consider page poetry the kind of poetry that takes into consideration the space of the page itself. This means the form of the poetry is an integral factor, not so much the sounds being made. This means you can have fun creating forms and shapes out of the poetry – I have one poem that’s actually in the shape of a boat, and one that I’ve been working on (who knows when it’ll actually be finished) that’s in the shape of a bingo card. But sometimes paying attention to these forms makes it hard to pay attention to the sound of the poem.

I started writing poetry without the aspect of performance in mind. It just came out of me naturally, and I didn’t really think about what I wanted to do with these pieces. Once I got into slam poetry, however, and started getting into that world of poetry, I was indoctrinated into this group thinking which looked down on page poetry, because of the fact that many traditional and page poets looks down on slam. I know I know – politics. Whatevs.

To be real though, there doesn’t have to be a line between the two forms. I think a good poet is able to cross the barriers of both forms – spoken and page. I mean why limit ones art work to just one form? My recent goal as a poet is to push the boundaries of what I’m comfortable with, and to explore and push myself as much as I can to write and tell the story however it needs to be told. In the end, my big question when writing isn’t always “Should this piece be a page poem or a performance poem?” Most of the time, my only question is, “How should this story be told?”


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