By Kathy Jetnil-Kijner, CPIS MA Student
“The creativity beaver beatboxes prayers.” This gem of a prompt originated out of a freestyle session during one of the Pacific Tongues Tuesday workshops in Kuykendall Room 409. We discussed what is “creative” versus what is “wack/hackneyed.” What does creativity look like? Does it look like a beaver beatboxing sermons? The poetry and the freewrite that originated out of this workshop showed what Pacific Tongues is actively involved in—getting youth and writers around the Pacific to tell our stories and to think outside the check-marked box of what is “Pacific” and what constitutes “art” and “writing.”
Pacific Tongues is a new nonprofit organization that cultivates an active artistic Oceanic community of writers, spoken-word artists, rappers, and educators. One of the initiatives of the organization is to facilitate spaces to encourage creative writing for youth and for community members through school visits, open mics, slam poetry competitions, and free workshops in the community. The Tuesday workshop that birthed the “creativity beaver” was one in the series that Navid Najafi and I were leading and facilitating. With my background as a spoken-word artist and poet and with Navid’s background as a rapper with the group Ill-nomadics, we organized weekly writing workshops that fused poetry and hip-hop. Participants, who ranged in age and background from high school students to PhD students, wrote along to beats, freestyled poetry on myths and ghost stories, and talked back to the shadows that haunt them.
As a part of my service-learning project, I used the weekly sessions with Pacific Tongues to understand how spoken word can be integrated into my MA research project. My research project is focused on bridging the gap between the Marshallese oral traditions and the written word, with an emphasis on encouraging more writing among our youth. One of my theories is that spoken word, as a fresh and oral art form, might offer a solution for filling this gap. The Pacific Tongues workshops gave me the experience I needed to better understand how to encourage writing, and what kinds of structures, prompts, and discussions lead to participants being able to express themselves through writing and also share and connect with one another.
Ultimately, Pacific Tongues is about healing and connection through expression—a worthy endeavor in this day and age when so many of our Pacific communities are silenced or voiceless. I am excited to see this organization grow as we spread into the Pacific through the Marshall Islands, Guåhan, Saipan, and other places. I’m sure the creativity beaver is excited as well.