Poet speaks on ecosystem

Savannah Dingman
Staff Writer

Poet, activist and performance artist Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner delivered an important message about climate change to her audience Tuesday, at the Pomona College Museum of Art. 

Jetñil-Kijiner provided a refreshing, new perspective that refocuses the conversation of climate change. She focused on how humans are affected directly by this change in weather. 

She highlighted the importance of hope in a time that can feel so doomed.

“You need hope in order to keep moving forward,” Jetñil-Kijiner said. “You won’t fight if you don’t have hope.” 

Jetñil-Kijiner is a native of the Marshall Islands, a chain of volcanic islands in the central Pacific Ocean between Hawai’i and the Philippines. 

She grew up watching her homeland get swallowed up by the ocean around it because of the drastic rising sea levels due to the sudden change of climate.

Most of these islands are now sitting only six feet above sea level, according to the Nippon Foundation Nereus Program.

Jetñil-Kijiner revealed the frightening truth of climate change data and how it is no longer a warning for what is to come because the damage is happening now. 

Through her powerful spoken word poetry, she conveyed the emotion she felt when witnessing her home turn into what she described as a tomb.

“With this video and poem, I wanted to mourn this island through ritual,” Jetñil-Kijiner said. “It’s like visiting a dying elder, that’s really what it felt like for me to actually go to [the islands] for the first time.” 

She described how her culture is closely connected to the islands themselves, and with them disappearing, she wants to preserve that culture as much as possible. 

Jetñil-Kijiner values the legends and rituals of the Marshallese, and incorporates them into her poems to tell those stories she hopes to keep alive.

“In the activist community, I feel it’s constantly ‘go, go, go, respond, respond, respond’ and that’s why I think of myself as more of a creator than an activist,” Jetñil-Kijiner said. 

“It gives me the ability to process my emotions, so I have incorporated rituals into my work because I want people to slow down and feel the weight of the grief.”

The way Jetñil-Kijiner delivered her perspective about climate change was unique because it was done through her passion; art.

“It’s really empowering seeing a woman making a contemporary, political statement through art, not just through political rhetoric and arguing,” Molly Tucker, a sophomore at Pomona College, said. “Her cultural ties to what she was talking about was inspiring.” 

Some of the audience members were moved to tears during her poetry performance due to Jetñil-Kijiner’s raw, first-hand account of the real consequences of climate change. 

Martaveous Holliday, senior multimedia major, said Jetñil-Kijiner brought out emotion that he has never felt before about climate change.

Jetñil-Kijiner is internationally acclaimed for her spoken word performance at the United Nations Climate Summit in 2014. Her poetry and performances have also been featured on National Geographic, CNN and other media outlets. 

“I had seen some of her videos, but hearing her stories in person and seeing her use her art to talk about a very deep and powerful issue was inspiring,” Dmaia Curry, a senior at Pomona College, said.

Savannah Dingman can be reached at savannah.dingman@laverne.edu.

Savannah Dingman

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