Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter

READ THE WORLD – The Marshall Islands: Iep Jāltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter by Kathy Jetn̄il-Kijiner

A collection of poetry covering themes like history, personal experience, and the Marshallese people and their culture.

I’ve read about a dozen poetry collections for my Read the World Project and I still think it’s an often interesting way to get a snapshot of a poets culture and interests. I think that Iep Jāltok is one of my favourite, and the best, collections I’ve read in a while.

The style of the poems differ. Some are in simple stanzas, others the words meander across the page or is just one big paragraph. There’s a few that are concrete poetry – written in the shape of a boat or a pot.

I knew nothing about the Marshall Islands before picking up Iep Jāltok and even now I still know very little. The poem “History Project” (which is also the name of one of the four sections of the collection) is about how when Jetn̄il-Kijiner was in school she researched how the United States conducted nuclear testing on the Marshall Islands. That in and of itself is something that I never knew about but how the poem goes into the images and statistics she found, the lasting effects on generations of people from the radiation, how Americans protested animals being used as guineapigs but not the people of the islands – it’s all so sad, horrible, but also not that surprising when you consider the history of the USA. It’s a really effective poem and after that one there’s mention of radiation and the sickness it caused in members of Jetn̄il-Kijiner’s family in other poems.

It’s the poems about the history of the Marshall Islands, its people and the effect climate is having on them that I really liked. There are poems about how the Marshallese are lumped together with other people from different small island countries in the Pacific Ocean. The racism Jetn̄il-Kijiner has experienced and how she feels that she and her people are forgotten by the rest of the world – especially when it comes to climate change. “Two Degrees” is about how the increase in temperature of two degrees will affect the Marshall Islands, and how the rising sea levels is already flooding the islands. Terms like rising sea levels often seem abstract and hard to comprehend, whether because you live away from the coast or it’s genuinely hard to image a beach or land no longer being above water. Having the effects of climate change laid out in a poem makes it seem so simple and real.

Iep Jāltok is a thought-provoking poetry collection with a lot of powerful poems. It shows history and issues from a point of view I had not seen before and demonstrates how unfortunately universal things  like racism and climate change affect people differently when they’re from different communities. 5/5.