The warming of the sea is a waking beast; and so, the main effects of climate change are being felt by small islands and those on the coast, particularly in developing countries. I am currently reading Richard Georges’ forthcoming collection ‘Giant’ for a review for the Poetry School. The collection, which focuses on Georges’ home the British Virgin Islands is riven by fragility. Here in the UK, we often talk about the weather – a day of snow will make headline news. We too are an island, but are world away from the experiences of those whose coasts have always been open to the whims of nature, and now compounded by the impact of human consumption. And as I’m reminded by today’s poet, as a colonial power the UK was instrumental in sucking out the resilience of island populations through the extraction of natural resources.
Recent storms which roared through the Caribbean and into the Southern states of the US in 2017, devastated the lives of the people of these islands. It is as though, such climatic change is a metaphor for the politics of today – a backlash, a reap what you sow. The climate agreement of 2015 called for a limit to the increase in temperatures of well below 2 degrees, with the tipping point being 1.5. But even this is a precarious prediction; as the icecaps continue to melt, vulnerable coastal communities in the likes of Vietnam and Bangladesh will be displaced. It makes the term, ‘natural disaster’ more contentious, more difficult to discern.
In Khairani Barokka’s poem ‘Tsunami Pilgrims’, from her wonderful collection, ‘Rope’, she looks at the effect of one of the most devastating disasters in the new millennium, the Indian Ocean earthquake and subsequent tsunami, which impacted the arc of coastline from Indonesia to India. Aceh province, a region at the tip of the island of Sumatra, bore the brunt; it was estimated that 230,000 people lost their lives in Indonesia, with three times that amount displaced. Whether natural or manmade, vulnerable states require greater assistance from the international community, for it is they who are literally at the front line of such disasters.
Khairani Barokka is a writer, poet and artist in London. Among her honours, she was an NYU Tisch Department Fellow and Vermont Studio Centre’s first Indonesian writer-in-residence, and is a UNFPA Indonesian Young Leader Driving Social Change for arts practice and research. Okka is also a creator of works for the stage such as Eve and Mary Are Having Coffee, co-editor of HEAT: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology (Fixi, 2016) and the groundbreaking Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (Nine Arches, 2017). She is a member of Malika’s Poetry Kitchen and a PhD by practice researcher in Goldsmith’s Visual Culture Department. www.khairanibarokka.com
We seek out pain in lurid glimpses –
bent palm, shell from Lhok Nga,
where waves hit the treetops
and deluged the cement plant.
Near the leftward curve of the bay,
a marooned ship’s chemical bullion
leaching out into the Indian.
Do I sell these things in little jars?
Hone memories tongue-wrapped for relatives, repasts,
parsed words and round vowels,
tasting like rawness and saltwater?
We wrap in plastic an oblong
displayed for the vendors
of foible as goodness,
and follow others’ nightmares
here, to the sea.
Tsunami Pilgrims was first published in the anthology Surabaya Beat (Afterhours Publishing, 2015) and is in her collection, Rope published by Nine Arches Press.