by Chamidae Ford
Seattle Civic Poet Jourdan Imani Keith, in partnership with Jack Straw Cultural Center and her cohort, Women and Whales First, Poetry in a Climate of Change, is releasing a limited podcast series by the same name. The series will feature seven episodes which will be released every Saturday, beginning on Juneteenth.
The goal is to “bring awareness to the intersection of Orca Awareness Month and ancestral legacy,” Keith said.
Keith began her professional journey with poetry by learning from Sonia Sanchez, a renowned poet who specializes in haiku. From Sanchez, Keith learned to craft poems that weave the personal and the natural into one.
“Although [Sanchez] never lectured us about our human cells being the natural world, her haikus very much established that. So I realize now, that was a seed that was planted without it ever being overtly stated,” Keith said. “And in my own life, I have fallen in love with rivers and mountains and landscapes. And people’s lives are, like my own, at risk for different reasons. And they’ve never separated from the land. Where we are and who we are and our experiences with each other have never been separate. So it would have been impossible and inauthentic for me to tease those apart — it would have really required me to deliberately silence a part of my experience.”
Focusing on the parallels between women and orca whales, Keith has uncovered this shared experience of being an endangered species. Through her work and the work of others in the Women and Whales Cohort, the group has explored this reality where often their existence as Women of Color is threatened.
“If we understand that we are all connected, all species by air and water, if we can see clearly the population of humans who are experiencing disproportionate harm and the population of orcas or salmon who are experiencing disproportionate harm, what do we have in common?” Keith asked. “We have threatened waterways in common. We have air quality concerns in common, and we have a resilience, particularly with orcas and with humans that is specific to having a match or linear culture, even though that has been disrupted by patriarchy and colonialism. We’re the only species that spend so long, generally, with our birth family.”
The episodes will feature poetry and conversations. Each episode will last 25–30 minutes and allow for poets of the cohort to share their work and will also feature the writing of people who have submitted pieces. The poems will be in a pantoum structure, a conscious decision by Keith for the way pantoums create a cyclical and connected feeling.
“I selected one line from each [member of the cohort’s] work and we decided together to weave those lines from each of our poems,” Keith said. “So not only were we using a pantoum, which is a Malaysian form of poetry, where repetition is really critical, but we wanted to repeat each other’s words as a way of showing our bond between each other and the work and to really emphasize some of the ideas that came up in our group.”
This series aims to bring awareness to the danger that women and whales face and create space to not only share art but also share one’s specific and unique identity.
“As we know, probably more now than we did a year and a half ago, how precious every single person’s life is. You cannot be replaced. You are the only you on the planet. You hold a specific purpose and connection in a social ecosystem. And in the rest of the natural ecosystem, you’re not replaceable,” Keith said. “I hope that [this series] will create space by giving permission to talk about all of the aspects of our lives.”
Listen to new episodes each Saturday on the Jack Straw Cultural Center website.
Chamidae Ford is a recent journalism graduate of the University of Washington. Born and raised in Western Washington, she has a passion for providing a voice to the communities around her. She has written for The Daily, GRAY Magazine, and Capitol Hill Seattle. Reach her on IG/Twitter: @chamidaeford.
📸 Featured image by Susan Fried.
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