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The philosophical poetry of Denny JA, its religious elements, and social functio

A Review 22 Books/ The Literary Works of Denny JA

The philosophical poetry of Denny JA, its religious elements, and social function

By Jasni Matlani, Recipient of the SEA Write Award (Malaysia, 2015)



Literary works of philosophy, based on religious foundations and possessing social function, will always be celebrated, regardless of the passage of time or location in a certain geographic hemisphere. In Indonesia, such works of literature have developed since the 16th century, if Hamzah Fansuri represents the expression of the arena of scholarship of the Indonesian archipelago, holding the title as a significant intellectual figure and avant-garde Sufi expert, accepted as a pioneer in the tradition of creating innovative Malay-Indonesian literature, particularly within the discipline of composing philosophical literature and possessing a social function and motifs related to Islam of the 16th and 17th centuries. Sheik Hamzah Al-Fansuri was responsible for introducing rhyming poetry to the Malay world, and he made poetry a form of novel expression, which enriched the vocabulary of the Malay language and furthermore integrated concepts of Islam within various aspects of life, and this was also accomplished through art. His literary works remained vital and relevant, transcending the passage of time and geographic regions. Indeed, his works blossomed into a collection of essays in Malay, a valuable inheritance of Islam, and these works eventually served as a milestone that mediated the transition of Malay literature that had hitherto been influenced by Hindu-Buddhist culture. Such literary works continued to characterize the life of the people of the Indonesian-Malay archipelago, ultimately experiencing an evolutionary transition in parallel to the development of Islamic proselytizing and also through the spread of science and Islamic literature that began to emerge on the surface in that era.


Sheik Hamzah Al-Fansuri had already produced several important works of poetry, including Syair Burung Pingai, Syair Burung Anggas, Syair Dagang, Syair Burung Pungguk, Syair Sidang Faqir, Syair Ikan Tongkol, Syair Burung Pipit, and Syair Perahu, which rendered a transitional shift in literary evolution, particularly in the poetic genre that advanced philosophy and religion, and furthermore accentuated a dominant social function for the people of the Malay-Indonesian Archipelago in that period. Despite this, it was not disconnected; on the contrary, this new poetry continued to develop, controlled, and influenced by Abdul Hadi WM, WS Rendra, and many others.

This development has evolved to the extent that in modern times, poetry has become more variegated in form. Indeed, in the hands of Denny JA, a poet who is said to be the founder of Indonesia Tanpa Diskriminasi (Indonesia Without Discrimination), poetry has become an example of a form of expression that is seasoned with cynicism, satire, and provocation concerning religion and the society at large. Denny JA has composed 22 books of essay poems, which are entitled, respectively, Burung Trilili – Bertengkar untuk Persepsi, Naga Seribu Wajah – Khayalan Menjadi Kebenaran, Kerana Kucing Anggora – Hal Sepele menjadi Pokok, Kisah Kitab Petunjuk – Yang Tercetak Kalahkan Yang Hidup, Mencari Raja di Raja – Yang Ada dan Yang Ilusi, Sidang Raya Agama – Yang Tampak dan Yang Hakekat, Balada Wahab & Wahib – Islam vs Islam, Menyelam Ke Langit, Terkejut oleh Riset – Bahagia dan Agama, Dua Wajah Ahli Agama, Hikmah Singapura – Agama di Sekolah, Lotre Kehidupan – Mujur dan Malang, Mimpi Sepeda Ontel – Berani Beda, Perguruan Bahagia – Api dan Abunya, Balada Aneta – Kesadaran dari Kesalahan. Robohnya Menara Kami – Pemurnian Agama atau Sinerji, Ambruknya Sang Raksasa – Gagasan vs Rupiah, Barat Lebih Islami – Substansi atau Label, Berburu Bahagia – Kisah Timun, Telur dan Rempah, Mawar yang Berdarah – Persepsi vs Realita, Ustaz Yang Gay – Nature vs Nurture dan Berburu Tuhan – Petuah Tiga Guru, which in their entirety reflect the intellectual perspective of the poet, express philosophical and religious ideas, and also highlight a social function that strives for profound interpretation in an extraordinary manner.


Indeed, the form of Denny JA’s expression, although simple and communicative, is already substantially different from the form of poetry of Sheik Hamzah Al-Fansuri, which was previously close to the form of traditional poetry that is linked to the rhythm, music, schema, rhyme, and tribal rules in his own words. In Denny JA's hands, poetry flows freely as it is, employing common language that is used on a daily basis and quickly extending to the public sphere, rather than becoming literature as an exclusive world for authors who prefer to use language that is difficult to understand. Conversely, the poetry that Denny JA has created, which is easy to comprehend, raises social awareness, possesses a vision, philosophy, excellence, beauty, and receptiveness to the demands of our times. Denny JA tries to absorb the superiority of the literary heritage of Indonesia, using notes, sharp social satire and cynicism, indeed demanding inner contemplation toward religion, which justifiably unites the nation, reinforces the ties of religious brotherhood rather than separating and dividing them, or amplifying the howls of discrimination; instead, he propagates a sense of unity, impartiality, and mutual tolerance.


If literature possesses its own excellence and vitality in declaring these virtues, then the world would surely seek and view literature from the Malay-Indonesian archipelago in this manner. This is similar to how the Western world conforms and demeans itself by studying magical realism in Latin America. Similarly, the world at a certain time in the past was fond of post-colonialism, finally forced to learn and understand the thoughts of a person who did not originate in the Western Hemisphere, like Edward Said. Truly, Denny JA in his 22 books is presenting a signal, a message that is useful for making us more considerate, wise, and subsequently make religion an element that is both unifying and tolerant, rather than divisive. Denny JA views this issue as a positive side of humanity, an issue that needs to be safeguarded as well as possible, in comparison to criminal behavior which is dismissed lightly in revolving succession these days. In fact, the reality is that anyone can direct himself to become whatever he pleases in this world according to his own machinations. However, the opportunity is still available to fortify ourselves and hold onto philosophy and knowledge that cultivate and make us more humane, tolerant, and loath to taking each other's life because Islam and other religions truly do not teach this; instead, they reject gratuitous forms of religious hatred.


Indeed, in Islam, each person should not consider himself as specifically belonging to this religion or another, but maintaining a sense of personal rights, which must be upheld, within the political system of Islam. Moreover, in the formation of a Muslim state, which was initiated for the first time through "The League of Madinah," special privileges both for Muslims and non-Muslims were indefinitely safeguarded, provided that they obeyed duties to commit pious deeds and acknowledge divine revelation. There are many events in which the Prophet Muhammad had independently decreed and demonstrated examples of proper deference concerning how one must maintain appropriate bonds with other people, as well as a proper relationship with the Creator. Just so, the essay poems written by Denny JA, though uncomplicated and communicative in nature, are remarkable in their propensity to internalize contemplation, perpetuate human welfare and mutual harmony, and eradicate violence and injustice, as well as defend the civil rights of besieged and impoverished social groups.


With great joy, Denny JA's works of essay poetry, contained within 22 colorful books accompanied by illustrations, disseminated by Inspirasi.co, and published during the years of 2015-2016, truly prompt contemplation regarding our existence as human beings in this evanescent world. Moreover, there are religious exigencies that underlie the foundations of human life, which appropriately unite us without consideration for skin color, nationality, and religious affiliation; these must be viewed through a clear lens, without prejudice, with inspirational idealism, according to the momentum of our common universal ties, both physical and spiritual. Thus, the Indonesian people in particular should view the world through a lens that is more impartial and considerate, and thus develop with exceptional progress, rising despite all the social decay, which is appropriately not the culmination of religion, but is due to an attitude, perception, and specifically human attributes, which continually run and evade virtue and truth, which are upheld by religion. Furthermore, social decay, and detrimental political discord occur due to ploys and human behavior which invariably conspire with the dark side of life and the world of personal concerns. Denny JA, as a poet, views this dilemma with a large agenda as well as the commitment of the author. Furthermore, he wishes to see this scenario become an important high point of Indonesian literature without our needing to intertextualize or parody other literature in this part of the world in a frivolous manner; conversely, we should cultivate a dignified identity as well as our own products and let the world become consumers of our literary texts, the fruit of our labors.


  1. Burung Trilili: Bertengkar Untuk Persepsi

In the essay poem, Burung Trilili Bertengkar Untuk Persepsi, which is dealt with by Denny JA, the issue is really much larger than the lighthearted Trilili bird itself. The Trilili bird can be an image or a metaphor that consists of various perceptions. Does the Triili bird represent a concept or ideology, or a religion or something connected to God? However, what is real is that here is where everything begins: man's passion to listen more closely to a story about the Trilili bird than to listen to more important lessons from a teacher. However, what specifically emerges on the surface is astonishment and mystery about this Trilili bird, which the poet describes as "Mengatur Nafas Kami," i.e. orchestrating people's life and soul. If it is connected to religion, the poet is touching upon the relationship with religious wars, which have occurred at least 123 times in human history. Indeed, strong interreligious sentiment has transpired across every historical era to the extent that we do not feel secure living anywhere anymore because of the violent actions of a small segment of society who are willing to blow themselves up and carry out bombings, which sacrifice a number of innocent lives, allegedly for the glory of religion. This happens even though religions do not really want any of their adherents to perpetrate such horrible deeds. Nobody is entitled to harm any innocent person's body for any reason, even more so shedding the blood of another person. Aren't we all descended from the same original couple, Adam and Eve? Although millions of years later, we have become people who belong to certain nations and differ in skin color and language, and God has told us that He created us all in the same form so that we could easily recognize each other and reciprocate love and kindness.


Thus, in life we need bread to sustain our lives. Bread is not merely for staying alive in a physical sense but even more so, "bread" is necessary for spiritual sustenance: bread for the heart and for the soul. Souls that do not annihilate one another, souls that are not split and divided, that do not draw borderlines in order to cause mutual enmity to the extent that life ultimately becomes full of suffering. According to Denny JA, everything that has just been affirmed is neither a dream nor an illusion. Indeed, what we need to do is comprehend the intention of the poet's cynical phrase, "Live for Trilili, and die for Trilili" so that we understand that this story was recounted many centuries ago when mankind was divided because of Trilili; with mutual discord was born the perception, described in the words of the poet:

… they differ in their perceptions

Regarding the face of the Trilili bird

Regarding the wings of the Trilili bird

Regarding the feet of the Trilili bird

Regarding the eggs of the Trilili bird.


This difference in perception ultimately triggers divergence, enmity, and endless contradictions. One side shouts "Apostate!" and the other side cries "Holy War!" One side screams the truth and the other side sanctifies the blood of victims. However, the conclusion of all this rancor is that once more, just like the cynical words of the poet, the Trilili bird is united within the blood of mankind or becomes a chant which is immortalized outside the heads of mankind: "Live for the Trilili bird, Die for the Trilili bird." This also represents an understanding or ideology, or to remember that throughout human history, there have been relentless quarrels, hostility, and wars, which have sacrificed millions of lives and innocent souls to the extent that the earth has been scorched as a result of this needless animosity.


  1. Naga Seribu Wajah-Khayalan Menjadi Kebenaran

Denny JA is quite exceptional when writing poetry about dragons, through his essay poem Naga Seribu Wajah-Khayalan Menjadi Kebenaran (The Dragon of a Thousand Faces – A Fantasy Becomes Reality). The cleverness of his mind is far-reaching. Other poets have dealt with the issue of truth or have not faced other predicaments. However, when linked to philosophy, is truth, as stated by Immanuel Kant, something that exceeds the human ability to comprehend? And is truth as a form of reality merely a construct, a phenomenon that when viewed through the lens of the human mind and senses becomes biased and differentiated? Kant, in his philosophy, asserts that what is called transcendental philosophy is a form of philosophy that focuses all its efforts to grasp the essence of reality based on objective logic rather than applying human senses. It is precisely this point that the poet desires to convey by demonstrating that this is more than a fairy tale featuring a dragon, as it appears at first glance from a superficial point of view; instead, the poet is illustrating an approach that shows how a teacher relates a story about a dragon and how the retelling of the story though successive generations of storytellers renders it as something factual and true. This concept is perhaps rudimentary and basic in human psychology, but it permits us to move forward; for example, we envisage God, whom we have never actually seen, but we tell people that God is out there, lurking within a mystical, metaphysical realm, from which He pays attention to us and commands us concerning truth, reality, and monotheism. As a result, mankind ultimately becomes certain of God's existence and prostrates itself before Him, on the basis of human powers of awareness and reason. Subsequently, man discusses God's attributes in a manner similar to the analogy of Polan, who questions the color of the dragon's eyes, seeing red, green, as well as yellow. Similarly, mankind deliberates God's manifestations in this or that way, and also debates the proper way to pay respect to Him, each person having his own different opinion and perspective, which consequently and ultimately is similar to the words of Denny JA, which appear to engender several verses expressing divergent opinions:

The din and clamor of the people arguing

The nature of the DRAGON was a dominant concern

Each person expressed a contrary account of the dragon

But each remained convinced and certain in his own heart


Indeed, different perceptions of reality need to be handled responsibly. If these different points of view are not managed correctly, schisms and unnecessary quarrels will result, and many mysterious social consequences will eventually ensue. If this happens, it is already certain that this will have negative consequences for the course of human life and history.


  1. Karena Kucing Anggora-Hal Sepele menjadi Pokok

Moving forward, just like the dragon in the essay poem, Naga Seribu Wajah-Khayalan Menjadi Kebenaran, in the next essay poem, Karena Kucing Anggora-Hal Sepele Menjadi Pokok, everything begins with a rather inconsequential matter but something essential in character. In this story plot, every time a certain teacher prays, he keeps his angora cat locked in the room so that he can pray with great devotion and tranquility. The teacher's students also adopt this practice. However, if either the teacher or the cat died before the other, an error would result because man allegedly requires the presence of an angora cat each time he prays. The students thus consider it obligatory for an angora cat to accompany their prayer; as a result, they hunt down every angora cat they can find merely for the purpose of having it accompany them in prayer. Later on in the story, another man presents a different notion, saying that it is not necessary to pray specifically with an angora cat; he claims that any breed of cat is suitable. On the other hand, others contend that it is the ritual of praying that is essential; thus, the presence of a cat during prayer is not mandatory if one intends to pray. Denny JA has expressed this idea in the following stanza:

Polan had a different understanding

It was the teacher that truly oriented his students in prayer

Most essential was the objective of one's prayer

We did not really need an angora cat


An issue that was trivial from the start had now become an element of religious belief; even more ironic, it became the pinnacle of dissent. This conflict had no end. In fact, the angora cat in this essay poem is merely an image and metaphor that the poet chose in order to specify a divisive issue that exists in religious life. Man chooses to question matters that demean others until goaded and finally persuaded to adopt a different perception; when that happens, various new social and religious factions, understandings, and currents emerge. Even so, it does not stop there; on the contrary, divisions may fester until a serious schism forms, leading to disorder and chaos and resulting in wars and bloodshed. Mayhem and murder become commonplace, nations are devastated, and the number of victims mounts ever higher.


Although some people are self-aware and enlightened, dreaming of peace, many other people appear who are more extreme, including those who had previously been victimized and have become disaffected; they continue the tradition of conflict and dissent, and it is even more tragic that they are capable of committing savage acts without leniency or compassion, allegedly for the purpose of a holy war and inner faith. Despite their protestations, in reality they are creating a chasm of inner life. They desecrate the blood of their brothers; they fight over the slightest differences. Moreover, they exterminate and demolish human civilization. This essay poem is easy to understand, but it leaves behind a profound message to contemplate the common bonds of humanity throughout the world.


  1. Kisah Kitab Petunjuk – Yang Tercetak Kalahkan Yang Hidup

The next essay poem is entitled Kisah Kitab Petunjuk – Yang Tercetak Kalahkan Yang Hidup. This essay poem recounts the story of a book of advice that was written in a bygone era that accommodates every matter regarding life as a guidebook for humanity. This book is read and lived by throughout the passage of time until it falls into the hands of a certain father who recites it out loud. When his daughter, Lina, decides she wants to choose a spouse, there are some differences of opinion, whereupon the father requires his daughter to follow the instructions in the book of advice. However, the daughter consistently chooses to defy her father's wishes. The father eventually evicts his daughter from the house. This is followed by the conclusion and message from the poet that family connections can also be undone due to the book of advice and religion. Disputes can thus happen within families, and this story represents a tragedy that reaches its climax as a consequence of matters that the poet considers trivial. Thus, the father possesses more love for the antiquated book of advice than he does for his miserable daughter.


  1. Mencari Raja di Raja-Yang Ada dan Yang Ilusi

This essay poem begins with a tragic circumstance. Senja is distressed and crying. The description and linguistic expression are heartrending in their beauty because Denny JA wants to describe the gruesome murder of a ten-year-old child, the hysterical cries of the grieving mother, and the echo of her weeping cries is described by the poet as penetrating the sky and each layer of the stratosphere in search of the Trilili bird, which indifferently confirms the authenticity of each tragedy as it occurs. Mankind inquires why God, the Great Protector, does not protect human beings by preventing such tragedies from happening; in other words, people ask why God does not intervene by thwarting tragedies that are totally unjustified. Where does God go when He is most needed? Is the zeal of man for war and slaughter God's business? After all, man defies God's dominion. Man slays his own kind with the intention of being a more powerful king than God Himself. Mankind has abused religion as a pretext for justifying the most barbaric savagery in history. The lesson of the Trilili bird in subjugating people to his authority is similar to the exploitation of religion by politicians, though it is not religion that controls politics. In the final analysis, throughout human history, the slaughter of innocents has continued unabated, even as more mosques, churches, and temples have been built, employing different rituals and different names for God and prophets, and this ironically intensifies the differences between people. Paradoxically, mankind, which has continuously suffered the brunt of misfortune and calamity, will eventually and invariably submit and dedicate itself to God, just like the mother who has suffered the violent death of her child. The poet describes the mother's actions at the end of the story:

Umi roamed and wandered, becoming a Sufi

She placed her faith in the Everlasting

She placed her faith in the throbbing of her heart

She placed her faith in the mysteries of mysticism

And this was not the Trilili bird

Yes, this was certainly not the Trilili bird


Man is truly weak, continually seeking something more powerful than himself, such as the king of all kings. However, he becomes distraught with life when he loses his moral compass; whenever this happens, man is granted a tragedy that ironically restores his faith. Time, however, passes quickly by, and everything he does will also drift aimlessly with the flow of time.


  1. Sidang Raya Agama-Yang Tampak dan Yang Hakekat

In the poem essay, Sidang Raya Agama-Yang Tampak dan Yang Hakekat, the poet conveys the experience of a person holding religious power who has nearly battered a barmaid to death. Eventually, he realizes this deed was excessive. Later on, he receives enlightenment. Three mystical events occur to him in the realm of dreams; he has already opened his mystical mind, related to the ocean of reality which is boundless and replete with mystery.


The three magical events involve the internal characteristics of this story; Ahmad is surprised to find that in a certain night market, religion is bought and sold like a commodity, just like pizza and Coca Cola. Later, Ahmad arrives at a place that has a harbor with multicolored water, although the source of water is normal water. Various teachers come to collect the water using their own porcelain vessels; these jars are made of gold, copper, or tin. Thousands of years later, man begins to quarrel and wage war because of these vessels, specifically because man prioritizes the superficial reality of things. Subsequently, Ahmad was startled to see a flying saucer suddenly land in a village. The blind villagers began to caress the spacecraft, each getting a different impression, similar to the parable about several blind men touching different parts of an elephant, each imagining the whole elephant to be like the one part he touched. When Ahmad awoke, he realized that God had bestowed enlightenment on him through this dream, and he decided to retire from his work as a public enforcer of religion.


  1. Balada Wahab & Wahib-Islam vs. Islam

This essay poem reminds us of the story of two leaves that fell from the same tree. Although each leaf had grown on the same tree, one had fallen from a branch facing West, while the other had fallen from a branch facing East. Thus, each of these two leaves grew, turned yellow, then wilted and fell to the ground without ever meeting each other. The story of two twin brothers, Wahib and Wahab, is similar. Wahab studies in the Middle East, while Wahib pursues his studies in the United States (i.e. the West). After returning to Indonesia, the two brothers have differences of opinion on many issues and thus often quarrel, although they were born from the same two parents. Consequently, as time goes by, their differences of opinion become even wider regarding various issues, such as feminism, homosexual marriage, and the role of Islam in society. These differences also extend to the context of their respective social lives, including each brother's choice of a wife. The rift between them leaves no point in common, as their mother summarizes:

The fire of enmity between these two sons is burning

They remain twins only in their physical resemblance

"Oh, God, All Knowing

Please return my twin sons to my lap


However, the mother's prayers are all in vain. In the real world, the meaning of brotherhood between her two sons has lost any significance; all she can do now is shed tears in torrents.


  1. Menyelam Ke Langkit (Diving to the Sky)

The poem, Menyelam Ke Langit, relates a story about a character named Joni who considers changing her religion. She is fascinated by the news disclosed in the social media that tells about Lauren Booth, a young woman who embraces Islam, as well as Lukman Sardi, a young man who embraces Christianity. However, Joni requires clarifications to decide whether she needs to convert to another religion, as the times keep changing, with the millennial generation more engrossed in the internet, Google, and Youtube than with God. This flow of information is constantly streamed through technological innovations by Samsung, i-Phone, and Blackberry. The poet asks how God maintains His presence and relevance in view of the preoccupation with technology in this new digital age. Indeed, many questions leave a trace in one's head within the cycle of life that keeps turning like a wheel. All religions exist within the rotation of the wheel in relation to being first on top, and subsequently at the bottom of the cycle, but the interest in seeking God never subsides throughout the ages. Joni eventually reaches the end of her deliberation and decides ultimately not to convert to another religion. Finally, it is summarized, "Wherever you start from, if you take a dive, you will also reach God, even if it is deliberate and in one language or another."


  1. Terkejut Oleh Riset – Bahagia dan Agama

Research and studies undertaken by an agency called the Sustainable Development Solution Network (SDSN) have identified the happiest countries, namely Switzerland, followed by Iceland, Denmark, and Canada. On the other hand, countries known as the origin of major religions, such as India, Saudi Arabia, Italy, and Israel, lag behind in happiness. The question arises why countries that represent the foundation for various world religions are not happy places. Is something wrong with religion? A professor reaches a conclusion in this poem: "… it is not religion that is at fault but rather how people practice their religion."

This essay poem is quite interesting. Even more so, Denny JA connects this concept with the story of Nazarudin Hoja, who searches for an object that was lost in a dark place by deliberately looking for it in a bright place. This is similar to man's quest for happiness where it does not necessarily exist. The poet concludes that religion is indeed a source of happiness; however, people are at fault by distorting and inhibiting the happiness that religion affords.


  1. Dua Wajah Ahli Agama (The Two Faces of the Religious Cleric)

The subject of this essay poem reflects real differences: two faces that are truly different and have no point in common. The story begins with a character named Yayan reading a newspaper which publicizes information concerning a corrupt minister of religion. Yayan is confused how this could happen. He decides to speak to a religious cleric and ask him why the department of religion should be so corrupt. Yayan asks: Why does corruption exist in the availability and sale of Qurans? Why are funds for hajj pilgrimage expenses misappropriated? Why has the minister of religion been imprisoned behind bars? How could this be, dear cleric?


Despite this challenge to authority, the cleric attempts to answer all these queries wisely in a manner that makes a close comparison with the story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. This is because “religion, ideology, technology are just a fragrant path which can be exploited and manipulated by evil minds and also used for beneficial purposes by righteous hearts."


  1. Hikmah Singapura – Agama di Sekolah

In the essay poem, Hikmah Singapura – Agama di Sekolah, Denny JA discusses Singapore as the most advanced nation within the ten Southeast Asian countries comprising ASEAN. Although the republic of Singapore does not permit religious instruction within its public schools, this city-state is nearly free of corruption; on the other hand, Indonesia, which includes religious studies in its public school curriculum, holds the title for being the most corrupt among the countries of ASEAN. Despite this observation, corruption is not really correlated with religion. On the contrary, religion prohibits corruption. However, if a country lacks economic stability and if poverty is rampant, more people will look for opportunities to obtain income in unscrupulous ways. This happens when the country is unable to facilitate socioeconomic mobility for its citizens through higher wages. If a country pays high wages to its ministers, these officials will not pad their pay through fraudulent activities. This is the case in Singapore. Civil servants in Singapore receive high salaries and are thus not driven to seek additional pay through corrupt activities. This is in contrast to Indonesia, which offers low wages to its workers; this creates pretexts and opportunities to commit fraud in a particularly open and extensive manner. Thus, the extent of corruption is not related to religion. Religion attempts to hinder corruption, but the financial demands of life drive people to do whatever they can, including corruption, to survive as well as enhance their standard of living. This is what Patricia B. Ebrey (1981) claimed regarding corruption: "tears are unable to fill a leaking bowl." Mountains and oceans cannot satisfy a craving that knows no boundaries. However, education remains essential; in the words of Malala (2013), education is the pathway for saving souls, cultivating peace, and empowering the young generation.


  1. Lotre Kehidupan-Mujur dan Malang (The Lottery of Life: Fortune and Miafortune)

In reading the essay poem, Lotre Kehidupan-Mujur dan Malang, we are reminded of the story that considers what would happen if God made everyone equally wealthy, thus eliminating poverty, or if the world were inhabited only by good people and there were no wicked people. Life would become monotonous. There would no longer be a conflict between good and evil. However, in this essay poem, Denny JA creates the story of Aba and Abi, who lead very different lives; later on, one of them questions divine justice:

Oh, Trilili bird

We all pray the same way to you

So why is it that only their prayers

Do you fulfill and realize…?

Where is your sense of fairness?

Justice is truly subjective; whatever we believe to be just and whatever we consider beneficial today may be deemed disadvantageous at some time in the future. This is what transpired with Aba and Abi. One of them went to war; when he returned, he was showered with gifts and honors. From one angle, it is quite ironic that a man who became a soldier and killed people should be rewarded with respect, luxuries, and nobility. Although this is a story, this often happens in real life. A miracle had been received, though not due to fortune that Thou bestowed. And not due to hardship that Thou imposed. Instead, says the poet, the miracle signifies the wisdom that was obtained. And the philosophical lessons of the highest order that were delivered.


  1. Mimpi Sepeda Ontel-Berani Beda (The Dream about a Bicycle)

The essay poem entitled, Mimpi Sepeda Ontel-Berani Beda, reminds us of the story of the old man riding a donkey alongside a young man along a sandy shore. They pass a group of people who comment how insensitive the old man is to let the young man walk on foot while he is riding the donkey. They switch positions, and they pass another group, who comment how insensitive the young man is to ride the donkey while his father walks on foot. Thus, they decide to ride the donkey together. Of course, this elicits a comment that criticizes both of them for having no mercy for the tired, overburdened donkey. Indeed, in each instance, they are chastised for being insensitive. Likewise, Nadia feels unable to leave the organization that has been bequeathed to her from previous generations, merely because she is considerate of the perspectives of three people whom she loves: her father, teacher, and fiancé. Later in the story, she prays that she will have the courage to leave the organization and be brave enough to find her own path in life. However, she realizes that any small changes will lead to disputes and arguments.


  1. Pengurusan Bahagia-Api dan Abunya (Managing Happiness: Fire and Ashes)

This poem recounts the concerns of an old master teacher who is confused about finding the right person to replace him. However, he actually has two students, namely Amin and Amen, who possess the proper character and charisma; either of them would be appropriate for replacing him. Despite this, only one of them would be entitled to be promoted to take his place. A ship needs only one captain; if there were two captains, the ship would sink. Thus, only one of them can be chosen as the new teacher.   Consequently, the old teacher tests these candidates by accompanying them to teach the art of happiness to people in two villages. Each brings his own set of scriptures, which he has inherited from his family line. Amin teaches the villagers to memorize the scriptures until they are able to recite the verses freely. Amen, on the other hand, does not teach the villagers to memorize but instead to open their eyes and ears. He listens to the problems of the villagers and tries to resolve them; he invites them to bravely change their ways of thinking in order to obtain pearls of happiness. The teacher finally selects Amen to replace him since Amen used the scriptures as a means of propagating happiness. However, this decision instigates a rift and long-term hostility. In the words of the poet, Amen chose fire, but Amin only chose ashes.


  1. Balada Aneta-Kesadaran dari Kesalahan

In this essay poem, Denny JA simply relates the story of a young woman named Aneta who has decided to become a Catholic nun and dedicate herself to God in this way and not get married. One day, she visits her friend Ani in Jakarta and meets a young man named Budi. After having sexual relations, they decide to get married, but Aneta regains her awareness that she does not want to indulge herself in normal earthly gratification; thus, she rededicates herself to becoming a nun. This essay poem is quite uncomplicated and employs communicative language. It ends with the implication that love can also be defeated by religious doctrine.


  1. Robohnya Menara Kami-Pemurnian Agama atau Sinerji

This poem represents an honest critique of Islam and modern Muslims, both in Indonesia and elsewhere. Islam has relegated itself regarding various aspects of modern life. There is nothing to be proud of from the standpoint of scientific achievement in contemporary Muslim societies. Many research studies have demonstrated that non-Islamic countries and societies are in the forefront of scientific discovery in distinction to Muslim societies. The West, Japan, and Korea have left Muslim countries far behind regarding technological achievement. At the same time, Muslims are specifically renowned throughout the world for being terrorists. Thus, Azis, the main character in this essay poem, endeavors to present a different perspective in order to change Muslim society and make religion more synergistic with aspects of high culture and civilization in order to achieve progress within Islamic countries. However, he encounters some controversial implications and undesirable outcomes as a result of his outspoken views. He is fired from the company he has strong ties with and is also abandoned by his girlfriend, Rika, who in essence states, "Azis, my plans with you are linked to religion, so if you distance yourself from religion, that means you are also distancing yourself from me."


  1. Ambruknya Sang Raksasa-Gagasan vs. Rupiah

In this essay poem, the poet presents an approach to concepts of modern economics that religious thinkers (who are normally preoccupied with spirituality and ethical behavior) rarely consider. The world of commercial trade, as well as profit and loss, is disregarded, just as the main character, Farid, initially ignores economic concerns in this essay poem. However, after hearing about the bankruptcy of Greece, his faith and emotions are rattled. Everything culminates from the economic collapse with the interest rate for financing the national debt at 23% of gross national product, 44% of the Greek people subsist below the poverty line, and they suffer from a 27% unemployment rate. Everything reaches the peak of dysfunction because of faulty economic planning and faulty attitudes regarding public debt that can lead to both economic and social collapse. Research and surveys also indicate that major economic powers and empires have ultimately collapsed, experiencing decay and ruin as a consequence of economic mismanagement. Thus, Farid desires to change perceptions and views of life, based on how the world of commerce and finance promote and advance human civilization even more substantially than religion and moral principles.


  1. Barat Lebih Islami-Substansi atau Label

The issue of who is more (or less) Islamic is touched upon in several of Denny JA's avante-garde poems, but the essay poem, Barat Lebih Islami-Substansi atau Label, discusses this idea at a more basic level, even more evidence-based, expressive, and focused. The main story character is a college student named Ahmad, who is active in militant religious groups. Ahmad is abruptly surprised when he reads a research article that states that the 10 countries that are lowest in corruption are non-Islamic. Moreover, he reads that the most tolerant and truly democratic societies are also located in Western "infidel" countries. The most advanced societies in science and the pursuit of happiness for its citizens are also "infidel" countries. Muslim societies, which stress the role of the holy scriptures in daily life, exemplify the most dishonorable or reprehensible countries. Moreover, Muslim societies are also divided and further splintered into various antagonistic religious factions, such as Sunni, Shi'ite, Ahmadiyah, Wahabi, and others. Thus, the poet recommends that mankind return to the spirit of love, the basic desire for harmony that beats in the heart of every human being. It is the spirit of love that complements and unifies the eras; the spirit of love overlies and harmonizes the ages of man. Because it was the spirit of love that propelled Muslim civilization to the pinnacle of global achievement many centuries ago.


  1. Berburu Bahagia-Kisah Timun, Telur dan Rempah

The plot in this essay poem is very simple. Three students, named Baba, Bibi, and Bubu, want to seek happiness. Their teacher instructs them to wander in search of happiness, and if it is difficult to accomplish this together, each student should set out on his own and choose his own path with the main purpose of achieving the most rewarding outcome. Baba decides to maximize his scientific discoveries in order to achieve happiness. Bibi finds happiness by accumulating power and authority. Meanwhile, Bubu focuses on amassing a stockpile of money. Twenty years later, they meet their old teacher, who tells them:

The science of happiness is one of inner awareness, my sons

It does not depend what you collect in your pocket

It does not depend how powerful you are

It does not depend how much wealth you accumulate

It does not depend how completely you understand science.


Then, the teacher created an allegory by taking boiling water and pouring it on a cucumber, an egg, and spices. The hard cucumber became soft, while the egg became hard and solid. The spices became a fragrant brew. Just as he said, hunting for happiness is like being spices, then adding hot water and giving our fragrance to everyone in our vicinity. This poem is told in simple language, but it is both impressive and poignant.


  1. Mawar yang Berdarah-Persepsi vs.Realita

This essay poem presents the story of a common love triangle, which becomes exceptional when it ends with murder. Four witnesses come forward to give their testimony about the death in their own words. However, none of their testimony matches any other version. The poet connects this situation to the abstract nature of truth, as well as the interpretation of different religions. Thus, it is not surprising if many conflicting perceptions about religion materialize, misleading mankind and actually distorting people's views of religion.



  1. Ustaz yang Gay-Nature vs. Nurture

In this essay poem, we witness a world whose values are changing. Although we have always been warned of the danger of homosexual relations, in recent times some countries, including the United States, have begun to sanction homosexual marriage. Still, in the essay poem, Ustaz yang Gay-Nature vs. Nurture, this trend represents a serious affront to Islam. Conversely, the poet tells the story of a Muslim cleric named Lukman. His father, Haji Arman Basara, is a teacher who has thousands of students on campus and at the mosque. However, his son is extremely gay. After Lukman's mother finds out about his homosexuality, she finds him nearly lifeless after an attempted suicide. She calls Doctor Pertiwi, a psychologist who was trained in the United States and requests the doctor's viewpoint about the homosexual world; she also inquires whether this condition has a genetic basis or other cause. Then Doctor Pertiwi explains:

"Being gay is not abnormal

It is a subtle genetic variation

Homosexuals can be considered normal

It is not an illness

It is not deviant

The American Psychiatric Association

Has already publicized this position

Since the 1970's."


He continued to explain:

"There are in fact only two genders

Just male and female

However, sexual orientation

Has six levels"

When she asked the doctor if Lukman could be cured of his homosexuality, Doctor Pertiwi replied that this depended on which level Lukman's homosexuality was represented on the scale.

"If he is at level six

It will be impossible for him to change drastically."


This essay poem truly represents a sensitive criticism to religious leaders. In reality, however, Lukman assuredly wants to be a normal man like most men in his society, but God created him with a divergent sexual orientation. This essay poem ends on a positive note with Lukman's father and mother sympathetically visiting him while he recuperates in the hospital.


  1. Berburu Tuhan-Petuah Tiga Guru (Seeking God)

The last essay poem, entitled, Berburu Tuhan-Petuah Tiga Guru, tells the story of a 55-year old man named Darta, who heads a family and is well-respected in society. Darta decides to wander throughout every hill and dale in search of God and wisdom. He travels to India to understand Hindu teachings; he swims in the Ganges River in his quest for God. In pursuit of God through Christian teachings, he visits Jerusalem. Subsequently, he visits Mecca to understand Islam; there he performs rituals connected to pilgrimage, fasting, praying five times daily, and studying the Quran and Sirah. At the end of his stay in Mecca, he says:

The concept of God in Islam is different

Monotheism, the belief in one God, is a unique idea

There are no deities or idols in the mosques

The belief in the Holy Trinity is also absent.


After sojourning in Mecca, Darta traveled to Burma to study the Buddhist religion; there he studied the philosophy of Nirvana. From there, Darta continued his journey. He went sightseeing in various regions, but the longer he traveled, the more confused he became about God's essence. Darta visited Western countries, including America, where he encountered atheism. After five years of roaming, Darta gave up on his quest for God and recalled his original responsibilities as head of his family because he realized that God as represented in major religions did not exist as one entity. On his way home, Darta met a teacher who taught him the virtues of mercy. This man brought him to a garden of birds, where Darta learned the meaning of the rainbow. The teacher then escorted Darta to a rice paddy where he saw righteous people working in the rice fields. Darta then understood that he should work and find meaning in his life just like other good people. He should live a normal life because he now understood that the God he had been searching for resided within his own heart. This essay poem is appealing; it is useful for contemplating the virtues of living a simple life and the notion that we can encounter God and wisdom through our daily affairs.



These 22 books by Denny JA, although written in simple language and steeped in controversial subjects, convey significant lessons for the reader. The poems provide many ideas that can stimulate profound meditation, especially within the context of philosophy, religion, and social issues that are relevant for people in this modern world. Indeed, it feels as though there is a sign that a hidden or intrinsic purpose of the poet is to motivate both himself and his readers to contemplate various issues in society and their connection to philosophy and religion in modern times. Many analogies are designed to encourage modern man to immediately assess the roles of religion and people's perceptions of religion. Although the poet himself admits that religion still possesses sacred qualities, he implies that one must concentrate on fine-tuning one's own guiding principles of ethical behavior and live a more conscientious, spiritual, and meaningful life.


Citations (Bibliography):

Alatas, S

Ebrey, P

Rahman, F

Yousafzai, M


Karya : Denny JA