"When power leads man towards arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations," John F. Kennedy proclaimed. "When power narrows the areas of man's concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of his existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses."
Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a 26-year-old poet from the Marshall Islands, recently demonstrated the impact a poem can have. She spoke during the opening segment of the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit this week. In a piece titled "Dear Matafele Peinem," she managed to capture the stark reality of climate change in just over three minutes.
The entire poem, and the speech that preceded it, can be heard in the video below.
“To tackle (climate change), we need a radical change of course," Jetnil-Kijiner explains. "This isn’t easy, I know. It means ending carbon pollution within my lifetime. It means supporting those of us most affected to prepare for unavoidable climate impacts. And it means taking responsibility for irreversible loss and damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions."
"I ask world leaders to take us all along on your ride," she added. "We won't slow you down. We'll help you win the most important race of all. The race to save humanity.”
Jetnil-Kijiner is a spoken word artist and co-founder of an environmental NGO in the Marshall Islands called Jo-JiKuM. The organization focuses on empowering youth by educating them on the importance of environmentalism and mobilizing them to work toward solutions to climate change issues. She was one of 38 civil society representatives chosen to present at the Summit.
An excerpt from her poem:
hands reaching out, fists raising up, banners unfurling, megaphones booming
and we are canoes blocking coal ships
we are the radiance of solar villages
we are the rich clean soil of the farmer’s past
we are petitions blooming from teenage fingertips
we are families biking, recycling, reusing, engineers dreaming, designing, building, artists painting, dancing, writing
we are spreading the word
and there are thousands out on the street, marching with signs, hand in hand
chanting for change NOW