Tag Archives: Poetry

A Shred From the Diary of Indonesia: A Collection of Poetry

Foreword

In the 1970s, I was learning how to carry a burden. In the 1980s, I carried the burden bravely and proudly. In the 1990s, I began to be overwhelmed by carrying the burden. In the 2000s I almost gave up because of the burden. By the 2010s I was questioning why I should be carrying the burden and who was actually the official responsible for carrying the burden.

What you are reading is my expression 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 will be very embarrassed. Because if this book were entered into a competition for poetry books, and I were one of the judges, there is no way I would select it as a possibility for the winner.

I really want to write poetry. And in my old age, I have been very diligent writing poetry, but almost not even one would I acknowledge as poetry. My work doesn’t get beyond “intending to write poetry”, “there are elements which are intended to be poetry” or “officially this is poetry, but whether it deserves the name of and passes as poetry, would need a long discussion and complicated considerations.”

Katak

In fact, poetry has come to a halt in the present era, 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, not one of them know 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 tucked away somewhere under a pile of garbage, buried under a muddy patch of earth soaked by torrential rain, or hidden behind the gloom, 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 regard themselves as humans? Has hope completely vanished for poetry in the midst of the life of the human family and Indonesian people who desperately pursue the world and things, but who complain incessantly of the world and things? In the midst of the arrogance of breath-taking advancement and while killing themselves to make it into the emergency response unit of the times in the pursuit of wealth, position, opportunity, access, and assets and arguing day in and day out of not achieving worldly desires?

No. Absolutely not. Poetry is not marginal, not marginalized. It’s 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 which is held, but a trip to be traveled. Poetry is not something to be grasped or stored in a wallet, but something to be cherished and ached for.

Poetry – like the horizon in nature, the sky in the universe, justice in the 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, which inside a speck of the dust of that tenderness is encompassed all 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, probably for that reason too I called the book A Shred from the Diary of Indonesia.

Even right until now as it is re-published, I turned the pages, my heart is still, and my mind 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 at by rats every night, its pages torn to pieces, ripped up, shredded, almost not a single page left intact. Half-soaked, reeking of a mixture of mouse piss.

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 who are 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 letters and words in this book, flow with them into tomorrow. At the same time, invite the letters and words to flow over you, without any limit as to time. One day you will be snatched by death, but that is only a crossing bridge…

Emha Ainun Nadjib
11 November 2016

AKU, JUGA

Oleh Langston Hughes

Aku, juga, menyanyikan Amerika.

Aku saudaranya yang lebih gelap.
Aku disuruh mereka makan di dapur
Ketika tamu datang menjenguk.
Tetapi aku tertawa,
Dan makan dengan lahap,
Dan tumbuh semakin kuat.

Besok,
Aku akan makan di meja
Ketika tamu datang menjenguk.
Maka
Tak akan ada yang berani
Bilang kepadaku
“Makan di dapur.”

Tambah lagi,
Mereka akan melihat betapa tampannya aku
Dan merasa malu –

Aku, juga, Amerika.


Featured image from We Are the American Heartbreak: Langston Hughes on Race in a Rare Recording

The Syair Tabut of Encik Ali, Indonesia and the Malay World

“This is an annotated transcription and translation of the Syair Tabut (Poem of the Tomb Effigies) of Encik Ali, a Malay-language, Jawi-script syair account of the Muharram commemorations of 1864 at Singapore. The only known part lithograph and part manuscript of this text, on which this edition is based, is held in the library of Leiden University, shelfmark Kl. 191. For a full discussion of this Syair, see the accompanying article by Lunn and Byl (2017).”

Julia Byl, Raja Iskandar bin Raja Halid, David Lunn & Jenny McCallum (2017) The Syair Tabut of Encik Ali, Indonesia and the Malay World, 45:133, 421-438, DOI: 10.1080/13639811.2017.1374012 from https://www.tandfonline.com/toc/cimw20/current

Source: Twitter account of David Lunn

Julia Byl, Raja Iskandar bin Raja Halid, David Lunn & Jenny McCallum (2017) The Syair Tabut of Encik Ali, Indonesia and the Malay World, 45:133, 421-438, DOI: 10.1080/13639811.2017.1374012

Language, Nation

By Muhammad Yamin, 1921

“What you have inherited from your fathers, earn over again for yourselves or it will not be yours.” Goethe

While still small and young in years
The little child nestles in her mother’s lap,
Singing soft songs and lullabies her mother
Beams over her child, overflowing with joy;
She rocks lovingly night and day,
Cradle hanging in the land of her ancestors.

Born to a nation with its own language
Surrounded by family to the right and the left,
Raised in the customs of the land of the Malays
In grief and joy and in sorrow too
Feelings of togetherness and unity flow
From her language with its sweet sound.

Whether with wailing tears, or in rejoicing
Whether in times of joy or in adversity and danger;
We breathe to maintain our lives
In the language that embodies our soul,
Wherever Sumatra is, there is the nation,
Wherever Pertja is, there is our language.

My beloved Andalas, my birth country,
From the time I was young,
Till the time I die and am laid in the earth
I shall never forget our language,
Remember, young people, unhappy Sumatra,
Lose your language, and your nation is lost too.

February 1921


First published in Indonesian in the Dutch language journal Jong Sumatra : organ van den Jong Sumatranen Bond, Batavia, February 1921 via Sandjak-sandjak Muda Mr. Muhammad Yamin [The Young Poems of Mr. Muhammad Yamin]  Firma Rada, Djakarta 1954, p. 9 and republished in Jassin, H. B.  Pujangga baru : prosa dan puisi / dikumpulkan dengan disertai kata pengantar oleh H.B. Jassin  [Pujangga Baru : prose and poetry / collected and accompanied by an introduction by H.B. Jassin] Haji Masagung, Jakarta,  1987, p. 322.