IEP JELTOK

a basket of poetry and writing from Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner


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Lavender Saltwater (a poem)

These past few weeks I’ve been totally swamped with preparations for Global Divestment Day (which you can read more about here: http://www.trust.org/item/20150209145810-c47vs), prepping for a few trips coming up, and also, most importantly, preparing for my daughter’s first birthday.

For those who don’t know, first birthdays are a HUGE deal for Marshallese. First birthdays, or kemem, as we call them, are the superbowl of marshallese parties. We go alll out. Most kemems cater to over a thousand people. Ours is considered “small” (we’re expecting 200-300 people). When the kemem is announced, pigs are roasted, fish are cooked in the earth, pineep or coconut oil are bottled as gift giveaways, family members spend weeks practicing dance routines for the big night, and baby’s face adorns stickers, huge banners, balloons, tshirts, invitations, cakes and cupcake toppers. And everyone – and I mean everyone – is invited. It’s all about coming together as a community – all to celebrate this beautiful child in our life.

In honor of baby’s kemem, I’m posting a quick poem I wrote about her birth. Some of these lines were actually written in the delivery room (I typed them into my phone). It’s dedicated to my friend Grace who was our family’s doula, who helped guide me through the scariest, most painful, most rewarding journey I’ve ever been on.

Lavender Salt-Water

Waves of

contractions

crash

into me

crack me

open split

down the middle

I imagine

the eruption: a bulging

sack of slime and blood and

spit.

Do not measure

the breaths the minutes

the hours of clenched

fists curled toes

eyes pinched

shut tight

closed

Just inhale

the saving

Grace

of hot towels

dipped in sweet lavender

Dream of saltwater

orange fruit and sunsets

uncle clyde aunty kaka

mom hetine tamera

baby dukie all of us

that one picnic afternoon

that ordinary sunday

just think

of her

seeing it all

someday

and when she

is pulled

from my body

an army of white

coats shout

an order:

OPEN

YOUR

EYES

And there she is.

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there’s a journalist here

So I know in my last post I mentioned not wanting to be pigeonholed as a climate change writer. But I wrote this poem last night and yup – it’s climate themed, or more accurately it’s a reflection on climate change, the media, and how stories are framed.

I’ve worked with a few journalists and documentary film makers since I performed this past September, and I’ve been inundated with even more requests then I can keep up with. I’ve been grateful for each interaction, and I’ve had no problem helping them out – whatever I need to do to help raise awareness on this issue.  But there’s something about selling the right story – framing that story for a specific audience, for a specific reaction. I’ve written a few articles here and there so I understand the struggle to have the perfect pitch, how it’s an art form in and of itself to draw in an audience and have them come away with a different understanding of the topic, and how important it is to be short and straight to the point. But the topic of climate change is so much more complicated than a 600 word story. It has so many facets. What kinds of opinions and stories are being left out?

A few months back, I put my cousin on the phone with one of the journalists, because of the fact that she experienced climate change first hand during the last king tide – her whole house was leveled by the waves. Only debris was left. Remarkably, though, she thinks of it as a fresh start, not as this tragic incidence. And this is what she told the journalist.

What is a journalist to do then? Not enough anger or outrage to fuel the plot.

Her story didn’t make it into the article.

In truth, I actually loved the article – it was incredibly well-written. But it still bothered me a bit that they didn’t include her story. I wondered – was it for space? I’m willing to bet that this is the most likely possibility. But a small part of me wonders. Was it because she was too positive – no drama, no anger? Did she not fit into the character she was supposed to play?

So here’s a first draft of the poem, still rough.

 

there’s a journalist here

who wants to interview you

 

they want to hear

about your old old house

older than you

its cracked plywood walls

like dry, sunburnt skin

how it collapsed

like a lung

as the water rushed in

they want to hear

about your journal

how you awoke

to soggy pages – ink

staining the floor

staining your hands

they want to hear

about the glass shards

from your window

how they carved

jagged pathways

along your stepmother’s leg

 

they want to hear

how you blame yourself

the way the neighbors

blamed you

women

shouldn’t stare

at the ocean 

too long 

they said

it was your

boldness 

that dared it to come

 

that’s

what they want to hear

 

they don’t to hear

that maybe

you’re imaging

a house

with new doors

new windows

on a grassy hillside

they don’t want to hear

that, weeks later

you found your breath

filling and expanding your lungs

that all you want now

is to move

forward

 


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A few thoughts on pacific literature

Recently I was asked by two former poetry mentors of mine to be interviewed for their research. Their research focused on the art of spoken word in the Pacific, with an emphasis on the organization that I count myself a part of – Pacific Tongues. One of the questions they asked struck me. They basically asked what are some of my ideas on how we could get Pacific youth to incorporate their identity and their culture into their writing.

I had a pretty straightforward answer: anything and everything these youth write will be representative of their culture and identity. They could write about walking down the street, attending a kemem, flunking out of school, fishing with their father, spraying graffiti across the underbelly of the bridge, giving birth to their first son – all of these will represent facets of their identity as Pacific youth. What many Pacific writers and scholars have argued and demonstrated through their own art and research is that there is no one way to be “Pacific.” There is so much more to our identities than the coconut trees ocean navigation canoes and tourist destination (although those are integral factors for sure).

It always bothers me when people try to create such a tight confined box for what it means to be an islander – what it means to be Marshallese or Samoan or Hawaiian. More and more of our youth are growing up and living outside of their islands – but that doesn’t mean their identity is any less Pacific than their cousins living in their homelands. That doesn’t mean they aren’t riding along subways with the awareness of their mothertongue tucked neatly into their pockets, singing traditional songs while drinking a 40 and strumming ukuleles over a freeway. This awareness of the self, the homeland, the culture, the family. It will always be there. It never disappears. I’m speaking from years of experience.

Since going to the United Nations, I’ve been asked to join multiple campaigns on climate change. And I have no problem joining forces, lending my support in whatever way I can because hey – it’s for the cause. Whatever will wake people up to save my islands.

However, I’ve also been worried that I’ve been pigeonholed into an expectation that everything I will write about from here on out will be climate change related. That I will become “The Climate Change poet.” Nothing wrong with that, but here’s the thing: there’s more to my islands than the threat of being drowned.

This isn’t to downplay the divestment campaign from my past post – I still believe strongly in this movement (there’s actually still quite a bit more work planned in that department – stay tuned). And I also still strongly support every effort for climate activism. I will always feel a strong sense of responsibility to do everything I can to raise awareness.

But it did feel like I freed myself a bit, at least creatively, when I answered the question so assuredly. “Everything these youth write will be Pacific literature,” I had said, without even pausing to think. And in the same strand, everything I write will be Pacific literature. Because each of us are living breathing writing pacific literature.

 

 


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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 (350pacific.org). 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

Kathy/Dede:

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 thinkprogress.org entitled “Meet the First Pacific Island Town to Relocate Thanks to Climate Change,” which highlighted Carteret Islanders and Taro Islanders:

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/08/18/3472645/pacific-island-town-relocate-climate-change/

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

Kathy/Dede:

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 350.org :

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

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