IEP JELTOK

a basket of poetry and writing from Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner


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About writing through writer’s block: one step at a time

I’ve been quiet lately on a lot of fronts. I saw the news on the destruction on Vanuatu, read the letters and pleas from a mutual friend on 350.org. A week or so later wind like we’d never seen whipped through our backyard during my grandmother’s funeral in our home, ripping through the tents set up in the backyard for mourners, taking down branches and trees. We found out later that whatever caused that wind, had continued on to upturn and destroy houses in Yap, in Chuuk. I stayed quiet again, wondering what could be done, what kinds of donations could be made, whether or not we could arrange a fundraiser. I talked it over with my students, considered options. I had also heard of flooding on Kili atoll once again, a letter from the Mayor asking for donations. A few weeks later, my friends posted photographs of themselves with the #wearemaunakea hashtag. I did some research, found out there was a massive movement of Hawaiians and allies coming together to protect Mauna Kea against a massive telescope. I taught a lecture on the movement, had my students take photos of themselves with posters showing their solidarity. Then Nepal, another devastation. Then Baltimore.

Sometimes, I wonder how people can stay so in touch, with news, with facebook and twitter. How do we stay on top of all the different issues around the world? How do we show solidarity without just liking and sharing statuses, retweeting and favoriting? And is it ok to be exhausted? To unplug? It seems easier, instead, to focus on the right now. To look up recipes, start making green smoothies, play with baby, grade some papers, hit the gym, watch a volleyball game. But does that mean we’re shutting off our empathy? Does that mean we’re tuning out? I’ve always found my ability to empathize to be an important aspect of why I can write. I think to write well, you’d need to be able to understand other people, you’d need to be able to connect to yourself, to your emotions. So I deliberately try my best to stay in touch with my emotions, to stay connected to the world around me. I worry that if I were to shut off my emotions, I would shut off my writing.

I have to admit something else. I’ve been suffering from some serious writer’s block. I’ve owed articles, poems, etc, and haven’t been able to write a damn thing. Who am I to write on what happened in Vanuatu? Who am I to say anything about Yap and Chuuk, when I couldn’t organize a fundraiser to support them? All these questions, insecurities, and hell maybe just life – being busy, being a mom and a full time faculty, all have contributed to a very dry well of inspiration and creativity.

Either way, this blog post was my attempt to dig myself out of this writer’s block. One step at a time I’ve been telling myself this past week. I’ve been feeling that itch – a consistent itch these past few months, and weeks. This itch to write. But I blocked it off for so long, told myself whatever I have to write is not worthy, not smart enough, not brave enough. Not sure where that voice came from. But it was only this past week that I told myself hey – just write a blog post. See where it can go from there. Put yourself out there once more, make yourself real and vulnerable, a tangible object of flesh and thoughts, memory and sound. Even if you’re not inspirational. Even if you don’t have the answers. Even if it means exposing yourself as human, as flawed, as real. Why not?

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Ally is a Verb: A Whale’s Song

Kathy/Dede:

Beautiful writing from a friend on what it means to be an ally amidst the Mauna Kea movement, and how it’s linked to cultural erasure in poetry and in personal landscapes

Originally posted on KE KAUPU HEHI ALE:

“Humpback Whales” by Christopher Michel is licensed under CC BY 2.0


Ally is a Verb: A Whale’s Song
by Rajiv Mohabir

I have had my land erased from me, he is being erased from his own land. When I was younger my family called my Raimie—a British name. When I first went to India I started going by Rajiv, my Indian name my parents gave me. I wandered my traditional fields feeling out for the calling of where they buried my ancestors’ navel string.

Bryan refers to himself as Kamaoli when he speaks Hawaiian.

*

To ally I must pectoral slap and fluke thrash against the ideas of “ally” and “settler.” These are convenient terms—they should be verbs. To ally: an action. It must be intoned in active voice.

These terms don’t hold the complexities of identity in assemblages—but they are a place where I can start my migration.

*

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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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