- Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter by Kathy Jetnīl-Kijiner
I wish to dedicate this review to the late Dr Teresia Teaiwa, prolific "microwoman" (the name of her blog), scholar, and poet who led the way for me and her many other students, as well as Kathy Jetnīl-Kijiner.
I took my copy of Iep Jāltok to the Lepindau, tiny coral islets located off the coast of Madolenihmw in Pohnpei, Federated States of Micronesia, where I, in the words of Alice Walker (who wrote a blurb at the back of the book), "savored" the words of fellow Micronesian (Marshallese) poet Kathy Jetnīl-Kijiner. Being from a volcanic island, I needed to simulate what it must feel like to be from atolls such as Majuro, Kili, and Aur, all of which are featured in Iep Jāltok. I have only been to the airport in Majuro and sat on the airplane in Kwajalein, and I cannot claim to know much about the Republic of the Marshall Islands. I reclined in a small, thatched-roof bungalow and read, all the while listening to the waves and feeling the vulnerability of a world that grows warmer.
I looked to the left at the ocean and to the right at more ocean and watched the land grow smaller as the tide rose higher. Frankly, the experience was quite terrifying, and anyone who is not a believer in climate change should be sent to an atoll with a copy of Iep Jāltok. Jetnīl-Kijiner writes about her islands with the respect, fear, and love that only someone of the place can, [End Page 258] but at the same time she acknowledges that she still has much to learn about being Marshallese. The result is poetry that is often—and I use a word that Teresia was quite fond of—breathtaking.
Jetnīl-Kijiner could be described as a twenty-nine-year-old celebrity poet, a status that is rare for poets, let alone a Marshallese poet who hails from "small / tiny crumbs of islands scattered / across the Pacific Ocean" (45). She is one of us, dare I say, a Micronesian: hated and discriminated against in Hawai'i, where Jetnīl-Kijiner was raised (as she relays in "Lessons from Hawai'i"); loved by our grandmothers (in "On the Couch with Būbū Neien"); cherished in our predominantly matrilineal societies (in "Basket"); and vulnerable like her daughter, Matafele Peinam (in "Dear Matafele Peinam"). Jetnīl-Kijiner, however, is far from ordinary. She is the daughter of the first woman president of the Marshall Islands, Dr Hilda Heine; was educated at University Laboratory School in Honolulu and Mills College in Oakland, California; and completed a master's degree at the Center for Pacific Islands Studies at the University of Hawai'i at Mānoa in 2014. Since then, she has taught at the College of the Marshall Islands and recently relocated to Portland, Oregon, where she is writing, performing, and applying to PhD programs.
Jetnīl-Kijiner's roots lie in spoken-word poetry, and she blew up online through her YouTube videos, most of which are featured in written form in Iep Jāltok and can be viewed on her website: https://www.kathyjetnilkijiner.com/. Many will recall Jetnīl-Kijiner's poem "Dear Matafele Peinam," written for her daughter as a call to action for world leaders to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and performed at the 2014 opening ceremony of the United Nations Secretary-General's Climate Summit. Teaiwa described her performance as "breathtaking in her confidence, her poise, even her fragility" ("Giving Thanks for Microwomen," 29 Sept 2014; https://microwoman.wordpress.com/author/teaiwa/page/2/). We Micronesians had someone we could be proud of, a young Marshallese poet-activist who represented us on the world stage, led a Climate March in the streets of New...