November 12, 2018
Two indigenous poets read a collaborative poem atop a melting glacier
by Julie Goldberg
Last summer, two indigenous poets collaborated to create a pretty badass project.
That is, reciting their poetry on top of a melting glacier on a remote spot of southern Greenland’s ice sheet. As reported in Grist, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands in Micronesia, and Inuk poet Aka Niviâna, corresponded via email for a period of months, writing the poem they would recite, and cultivating a friendship and creative partnership that blossomed onscreen when they finally met in person to shoot “Rise.” As Jetnil-Kijiner put it, “It felt like we wrote our relationship into being.” The film was directed by Dan Lin.
Reflecting on the experience, Jetnil-Kijiner shared that she was more amazed by the beauty of the landscape than disheartened by it’s deterioration; “It just felt like I was meeting an elder,” she said, “I was just in awe of the ice, of how large it was, how expansive, how beautiful.”
While the political message behind the work is self-evident, Jetnil-Kijiner maintains that the piece was not about changing anyone’s mind, but rather about expressing her truth alongside Niviâna, saying “I’m not here to convince someone else of my humanity or the reality of our situation. I’m just trying to create a different sort of experience that speaks more truth to my own.”
In their poetry, the two women speak of their respective ancestral lands, of volcanoes and icebergs, and legends of sisters turned to stone, and Sassuma Arnaa, Mother of the Sea. They also allude to the ever-present threat that climate change poses to the global community:
Let me show you
bulldozed reefs, blasted sands
and plans to build new atolls
from an ancient, rising sea
Lin hopes the collaboration will build an awareness of the connections between seemingly disparate communities. By harmonizing these two voices from opposite ends of the globe, the film not only showcases the ability to connect with others in spite of geographic and cultural differences, but also the necessity of global unification in order to combat climate change. It affects everyone, and we cannot fight it if everyone, especially the largest and most powerful nations (ahem, the United States, ahem) isn’t committed to lessening it’s impact and providing aid to communities that have already been affected.
Julie Goldberg is an intern at Melville House.