Iep Jaltok: Poems from a Marshallese Daughter

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner. Univ. of Arizona, $14.95 trade paper (90p) ISBN 978-0-8165-3402-9
Through a poetics of resistance, Jetnil-Kijiner bears witness to the atrocities suffered by the inhabitants of the central Pacific Marshall Islands. As the first published Marshallese poet, Jetnil-Kijiner addresses in a woman’s voice pressing themes surrounding the Marshalls, such as nuclear testing, militarism, rising sea levels, and racism. Renewing the archipelago’s matrilineal traditions, Jetnil-Kijiner presents women’s stories—from her mother, grandmother, herself, and others—to re-center an indigenous feminist contemplation and resistance against state-sanctioned violence. In the poem “History Project,” she recalls the history of nuclear testing in the islands through her own memory of researching it as a teenager; the fate of the project echoes that of the islands. Moreover, these poems bear witness through the body, which figures prominently. As Jetnil-Kijiner writes “your/ body/ is a country/ we conquer/ and devour.” She reclaims body and poetry through utilization of lyrical, visual, and narrative modalities, adding to the growing body of Pacific Islander poetics. Reclaiming the Marshallese symbol of “a basket whose opening is facing the speaker,” which is also used to describe female children, the collection begins and ends with two versions of the title poem. Breaking the white space of the page, Jetnil-Kijiner’s words trace the outline of an open basket; one thread testifies, and the other concludes with a dream: “dreamt// my words// were// a current// flowing// to greet you.” Against visions of a rising tide, Jetnil-Kijiner offers healing and justice through language. (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 01/16/2017
Release date: 02/01/2017
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