Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

a basket of writing from author Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner

there’s a journalist here

3 Comments

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

 

Author: Kathy/Dede

Kathy Jetnil Kijiner is a Marshallese poet and activist. Her writing highlights the traumas of colonialism, racism, forced migration, the legacy of American nuclear testing, and the impending threats of climate change. Bearing witness at the front lines of various activist movements inspires her work and has propelled her poetry onto international stages. She has performed her poetry in front of audiences ranging from elementary school students to most recently over a hundred world leaders at the United Nations Climate Summit, where she performed a poem to her daughter, "Dear Matafele Peinam". Currently she lives and works in the Marshall Islands, where she teaches Pacific studies courses full time at the College of the Marshall Islands. She is also Co-Director of the youth environmentalist non-profit Jo-Jikum, which empowers youth by educating them on the importance of environmentalism and mobilizing them to work toward solutions for environmentalist issues. Check out their website: www.jojikum.org

3 thoughts on “there’s a journalist here

  1. Thank you for sharing this story. I think it is important for two really big reasons. The first is that if we are all going to have to move into this unpredictable changed world together, we need to be able to see it as a fresh start; a way to let go of old things and build a better tomorrow. The other is that we need to see each other as the complex multidimensional humans that we all are, and not as victimised objects of pity. On a separate note, I think of you every morning when our family rides our bikes to school. We are the only ones, and believing that our actions are connected to others helps me.

    • Thank you so much for recognizing my message. I agree, we are definitely going to have to understand that we are complicated. Also I love that you ride bikes with your family 🙂 My daughter’s too young for that at the moment, but I definitely hope to do that when she gets older!

  2. So important not to be pigeonholed! Thanks for sharing, and hope to visit your blog much more often.

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