A Shred From The Diary of Indonesia: A Collection of Poetry
By Emha Ainun Nadjib
In the 1970s I learned how to carry a burden. In the 1980s I carried the burden bravely and proudly. In the 1990s I started to be overwhelmed by carrying the burden. In the 2000s I almost gave up because of the burden. By the 2010s I questioned why I should carry the burden, and who the actual official responsible for carrying the burden was.
What you are reading is my expression of and impression about, in, from and towards Indonesia, from the 1980s to the 1990s. Anyone reading it is free to decide what the emphasis is, the poetry, the Indonesia, the me, or the shred.
If the reader focuses their reading on the poems in the book, I am going to be very embarrassed. Because if the book were to be entered into a competition for poetry books, and I was one of the judges, there is no way I would select it as a possible winner.
I really want to write poetry. And in my old age I have been very busy writing poetry. However, there is almost not even one that would I acknowledge as poetry. My work doesn’t get past “intending to write poetry,” “there are elements that are intended to be poetry,” or “officially this is poetry, but whether it deserves the name of and passes as poetry, would require a long discussion and complex considerations.”
The fact is poetry has come to a halt in the present era. It is no longer a part of the mainstream values that operate in the civilization of contemporary Indonesian people. It is not even remembered by the leaders of the age and the values they espouse. Poetry has been driven into a cave, and those who deal with poetry have become cave-dwelling creatures with shadowy outlines, invisible to the community.
Indonesia, the national ideology Pancasila, the Youth Pledge, the 1945 Constitution, development, progress, government, parliamentarians, government regulations, the president and ministry, all the way down to village regulations, none of them understand poetry. They do not look for poetry. They do not find poetry. They do not remember poetry. There might be a trace of the word “poem” in the far recesses of their brain, but what they understand is not really poetry. Possibly poetry is hidden away somewhere under a pile of garbage, buried under a muddy patch of earth soaked by torrential rain, or hidden in the gloom and weakly crying out the sound of silence in midst of darkness.
Is poetry really this hopeless in the midst of today’s civilization of hyper-materialism? Is it really so pessimistic for poetry in the middle of the stream of robots and bodies that think of themselves as humans? Has hope completely vanished for poetry in the midst of the life of the human family and the Indonesian nation who desperately pursue the world and material things, but who complain incessantly about the world and material things? In the midst of the arrogance of such breath-taking progress and as they kill themselves to make it into the emergency response unit of the age in pursuit of wealth, position, opportunity, access, assets, and squabble day in and day out about not achieving their worldly desires?
No. Absolutely not. Poetry is not marginal, not marginalized. It is not sidelined or disappeared. Poetry is indeed not food on the plate, a vehicle that is gassed and braked, a house with decor or shopping malls designed by architects to be like paradise. Poetry is not something achieved, but something journeyed towards. Poetry is not something that is held, but a journey to be traveled. Poetry is not something to be grasped or stored in a wallet, but rather something to be cherished and longed for.
Poetry – like the horizon in nature, the sky in the world, justice within sight of the soul, trueness in the recesses of the heart, eternity at the edge of time’s mystery, and God himself who seems to hide behind a secret without ever meeting – is the tenderest point far beyond the spirit, traveled with yearning to return, which encompasses within one speck of the dust of that tenderness the whole of nature and thousands and thousands of universes.
I myself earlier, when that current of energy and magnetism passed right through me whose outpouring is a flow of writings or poems, was captured by the instinct to foster and allow poetry to be a mystery, one which must not lose its essence today. So every day I concentrate on the Indonesia side of it. I am concerned about it, am anxious for it, take care of it. Maybe ever since God inscribed in the Preserved Tablet for me to love, maybe for that reason too I called the book A Shred From the Diary of Indonesia.
Even right up to now, as it is published again, I turn its pages, and my heart and mind is still fixed on Indonesia. But if you go into the “shred” deeply, it feels too broken. Indonesia today is no longer a shred: it’s like an old book lying forgotten in the cupboard, gnawed by rats every night, pages torn to pieces, ripped up, shredded, almost not a single page left intact. It is half-soaked and reeking because it is mixed with the urine of those rats.
A Shred From The Diary of Indonesia holds out a mirror before my own face. I stare back into my own eyes. I behold growth in decay, a baby in poverty, a young man in old age, a future for all those benighted. The wrinkles of an old face in the mirror, unimaginable weakness and helplessness, but there is a refreshing breeze that springs from the depths of the soul: I will take Indonesia into the future.
If you find any letters and words in the book, flow with them into tomorrow. At the same time, invite the letters and words to flow over you, without any limit in time. One day you will be surprised by death, but that is only a bridge crossing…
Emha Ainun Nadjib
11 November 2016