Sutardji Calzoum Bachri: One Short Article Concerning Five Long Poems
It is certainly true that poems do not only consist of poetic elements; they also contain stories, attitudes, opinions, arguments, and essays. The poetry of Rendra, T. S. Eliot, and Pablo Neruda are particularly impressive in these qualities. This is also true, for instance, in these lines from the poet Chairil Anwar: “Whenever my time arrives / I would prefer that no person praises me…” These opinions and poetic expressions unite each other. The seed for an essay can emerge in the head and heart of the reader, thus making the reader contemplate: What is life, and what will the meaning of life be a thousand years from now?
Poetic imagination interacts with facts. The inspiration for a poem doesn’t appear from an empty sky, and so it falls directly on the surface of a blank piece of paper sitting in front of the poet.
Composing a poem is a response to facts in real life, the verses of life and its events which have already been recorded. Thus, poetry is not written on an empty piece of paper. The composition of poetry involves writing on top of what has already been written. It reinforces and underscores the writing of life’s events and meaning which have already happened or are still in progress. Poetry that solidifies the writing of real life is poetry that resists the tendency to forget. Common examples of social poetry and poetry of resistance can frequently be classified within this genre. On the other hand, writing poetry can also represent an effort to dismiss and disregard verses of life that already exist. This is poetry whose specific purpose is to forget. Poetry of this nature, for example, would mention a horse for the purpose of expunging or dismissing the horse from memory in life as well as its existence as a word in the dictionary.
Poetry, like the imagination, can be arbitrary in its attention to facts in a manner that is similar to the arbitrary relationship between words and their meaning. A poem can abuse facts for the purpose of achieving poetic value. Facts, as far as the general public is concerned, can mean the total absence of something (like a new moon at the close of the fasting month), but some observers can still see a slight sliver of the moon in the sky if they are sufficiently motivated to look carefully. However, Sitor Situmorang wrote a poem entitled “Malam Lebaran /Bulan di atas kuburan” (“On the evening of Eid al Fitr, the moon is (seen) over the cemetery.”).
There are poets and poems that utilize the complete veracity of facts in order to augment the integrity of their poems. There are also, conversely, poets who dismiss or misappropriate facts for the purpose of reinforcing the poetic value of their verse. These are certainly two extremes; however, in practice, these two trends are intermingled.
The five literary works in Denny JA’s book, Atas Nama Cinta (In the Name of Love), were inspired by factual events which had already been documented. Thus, these are not the kind of poems that I mentioned previously, i.e. when a poet writes the word “horse” specifically to dismiss or disregard a horse, which factually exists both in reality and in the dictionary.
The author calls these works “essay poems”. I myself, as a reader, initially viewed them as poetry. If later I found within them various matters that made each poem feel like an essay, then that was actually a beneficial aspect of these verses. It can be claimed that all these verses contain a common theme of various examples of opposition (e.g. related to social discrimination) that people engage in as individuals. These forms of opposition entail, among others, confronting poverty, discrimination, and “forbidden” love.
The verses that are expressed in a narrative form with central figures in the first person singular (“I”) and the second person singular (“he” or “she”) and numerous stanzas are dense in terms of “restraint” while exploiting various poetic devices that are created from a blend of poetic lines, rhythmic flow, and the sound of the words.
Fang Yin’s Handkerchief is the story of Fang Yin’s inner struggle and resistance directly within herself. Unlike other poems, which recount resistance toward other people based on external social constraints, Fang Yin is consumed with her own suffering as a victim of violence and rape (in the May 1998 riots); she feels hatred toward Indonesia but is finally able to adopt a positive perspective and even begins to love the country. Yes, this is the story of an extended journey to falling in love with Indonesia after first experiencing terrible pain, hatred, and an eventual yearning to return. In Jakarta, Fang Yin is raped, abandoned by her boyfriend, and evacuated to find refuge in the United States, but thirteen years later she longs to return to Indonesia.
The story climax takes place when Fang Yin sets fire to her handkerchief, a symbol of love, which had been given to her many years before by her boyfriend. This keepsake, a remembrance from a faded antiquated love, is burned when feelings of love for Indonesia resurface, replacing the hatred she had harbored for many years.
The story is told in stanza after stanza whose total number is remarkable; the plot unwinds rather slowly. It is not hurried; thus, the poem turns out to be quite long. This is the general impression I received from reading these five essay poems. Almost every line in each poem apparently tends to be coordinated with a corresponding number of syllables and similar rhyme structure to the extent that a poetic sensation is achieved.
Stanzas that features rhythm substantially assist to achieve appeal in reading the poem, although it lacks outbursts of metaphor, simile, or other literary devices that are frequently found in Rendra’s poetry. And maybe this is not necessary since the mood in Denny’s verses is oriented toward calm contemplation and pondering of thoughts, which we tend to encounter when reading essays.
Occasionally, metaphor, which is normally full of meaning, is not expressed so that additional reservoirs of meaning and clarification are attained; this idea is exemplified in the description of the atmosphere surrounding Fang Yin’s “burning handkerchief”: “And without any drawn out deliberation, she set fire to the handkerchief / The flames became stronger until the handkerchief was consumed by fire / She stared at the handkerchief, which was now reduced to ashes / Her past was now immolated / Her long suffering had also been consumed by fire / Her love for Kho had also been consumed in the flames / Her jealousy toward Rina was also totally immolated / And her anger at Indonesia? / It too had been burnt through this rite of self-purification”. What I want to address here is that the writer counts on great clarity, such as article or essay writers tend to do and thus avoids conveying any dubious or unwarranted inferences.
After hating Indonesia and living in America for 13 years, now “Indonesia entered her heart again / Like coconut palm leaves waving and beckoning to her / … She currently wants to go home, having already taken hold of a new comprehension of Indonesia: “Now she desired to go home, her yearning was ablaze/ She wanted Indonesia to be like herself: victorious by defying her past/ Calamity and tragedy had undeniably appeared/ What was most important though was to always have a dream / This is a new Indonesia, they claim, according to them…” This is a segment of the culminating lines of this essay poem. In this composition, poetry, a sense of an essay, and dreams are intermingled.
Similar to the love story of Romeo and Juliet, which features tragic conflict based on family background that obstructs their relationship, in Denny JA’s essay poem, “Romi dan Yuli dari Cikeusik” (Romeo and Juliet from Cikeusik), there is a conflict between hard-line Muslims and followers of the Ahmadiyah sect. The story is told, as it is in other essay poems, with a proficiency for dense narrative, with rhythm and rhyme within well-structured lines, in an appealing manner that engrosses the reader in the story. Due to this skillful storytelling, the love story and the religious conflict may just serve as a backdrop; thus, it appears that the reader needn’t receive a sophisticated understanding of the exact points of argument between the two adversaries in the religious dispute. It is sufficient for the reader to be told in the following lines: “Romi had explained,/ Ahmadiyah was blah, blah, blah…/Ra, ra, ra…/ Ra, ri, ru…/ They were accused of heresy due to blah, blah, blah…” In another stanza: “Yuli’s father screamed, saying,/ Ahmadiyah had already strayed from the true version of Islam. Its teachings had been declared heretical/ In religion, there are certain principles/ Blah, blah, blah…/ Ra, ra, ra…” And in the next stanza: Yuli tried to respond,/ Ahmadiyah was also Islam/ Because Ta, ta, ta…/ La, la, la…”. I recall that Rendra had also written something similar to this. This is truly a form of expression that is specifically characteristic of poetry. This style actually bolsters the potency of the poetic message; ironically, though, it would render the message obscure and confusing were this form to appear within the context of an essay.
The poem concludes with the victory of love. Yuli’s parents are defeated. However, Yuli dies prematurely just before her parents relent and permit her to marry her ideal partner. It appears that the author cannot bear or appreciate a more sensible outcome. It seems that with Yuli’s death, the poem adopts a stance that favors a “win-win” solution.
However, what does it mean for a poem to win? A poem can win immediately, right now, when it is being read by someone. It does not require any future effort in order to win. Anytime someone is charmed by reading or listening to a poem, it wins. Proponents of social justice use poems because they do not need to wait long in order to win the contest. The captivating influence of a poem causes a certain belief that is still debated to be felt resolutely, although its eventual real (factual) victory may still lie decades in the future. Of course, a poem possesses its own struggle, i.e. a fight for aesthetic acceptance, which is often experienced by poets who write in an innovative style. However, this point is not relevant in the current context.
Factual victory and poetic victory are two distinct issues. When the factual wants to enter the poetic domain, it must bow to the rules of poetry, which frequently cannot be arranged in a lucid manner. Thus, all the data pertaining to facts which are introduced into the jurisdiction of poetry may not necessarily be effective in creating a poetic machine that functions optimally. A common method for placing data and information is accomplished through the use of footnotes, such as those that often appear in Denny’s poems; applying this strategy enables poetry to function freely and optimally (i.e. without being burdened by information in the body of the poem).
The essay poem, “Minah Tetap Dipancung” (Minah was Still Beheaded), recounts the story of Minah’s struggle to change her fate, overcoming poverty and fighting for the sake of defending her integrity and self-respect. This is similar to other poems in that it is written in very clear verse within stanzas. Although Minah appears to be a naïve village woman, she has a talent for protesting: “You’re a corruptor, aren’t you?/ You’ve filched from us, haven’t you?,” she accuses an employee at a recruitment agency. When she is repeatedly raped by her Saudi employer, her struggle culminates in killing her boss (in self-defense).
Most figures who appear as victims in these poems are described as having a broad awareness and as being more tolerant and understanding of their opponents. For instance, Fang Yin is finally able to understand Indonesia, which she had previously loathed. Dewi demonstrates tolerance when she marries a man whom her parents have selected. Amir also marries a young woman whom his mother has chosen. An exception is Yuli, who stubbornly resists her parents’ point of view. On the other hand, Minah, a village woman, lacks sufficient background knowledge to try to comprehend the cultural differences that confront her.
The opposing side in these confrontations is depicted as harsh, stiff, fanatic, and intolerant characters. Is this unfair? If so, where have you seen a neutral stance in a poem, especially when it involves human figures who serve an adversarial function in the poem?
Providing factual data as proof so that the poem is fair represents an effort to control the imagination and thus remain fair and appropriately nuanced as a essay writer would strive to do. These five essay poems succeed because they were originally intended to be essays. In the hands of a different writer with other intentions, the same basic facts could easily make a different impression on the reader. Imagination is the king: “It can do no wrong.” Major facts that exist in the real world can be scaled down or even purged in applying one’s imagination; conversely, trivial facts can become prominent in one’s imagination. A broad beam of light from the sun of facts can be obstructed by a diminutive line of poetry.
This is true for other poems in this anthology, such as “Cinta Terlarang Batman dan Robin” (The Forbidden Love of Batman and Robin) and “Bunga Kering Perpisahan” (The Desiccated Flower of Parting); these essay poems are inscribed with clear, smooth language and moderate application of rhyme and rhythm. Among these essay poems, The Forbidden Love of Batman and Robin demonstrates the strongest resemblance to an essay format. In The Desiccated Flower of Parting, the author repeatedly uses death as a tool to terminate a dilemma or quell some troubled feelings. In my opinion, Minah was Still Beheaded stands out as being minimal in its essay aspects.
All of these poems can be described as “cross-border poetry”. It can be read as prose in its positive connotation. It is clear and certain that the stanzas, rhythm, rhyme, metaphor, and other expressive aspects serve to classify these five poems as true works of poetry. However, since these poetic devices are not employed excessively, carelessly, or in a non-speculative manner (as seen in some of Rendra’s poems), we can conclude that these literary devices not only do not disturb (especially if they are read as prose) but actually enhance the reading of each poem by providing a special nuance that enriches the atmosphere of the underlying story.
In my opinion, essay poetry is intelligent poetry. The inclusion of data, facts, and arguments, instills insight that helps the reader understand and appreciate the personal dilemmas that are connected to social problems and conflicts.
If smart poetry exists, then, of course, so does dumb poetry. Unintelligent poetry elaborates primitive (or even animalistic) expressions in order to obtain human qualities that lack intensity. If intelligent poetry with its “one thousand pieces of data” illuminates our comprehension of specific instances of social conflict, then by comparison dumb poetry with its vulgar, animalistic phrases seeks only to invite the reader to regress one thousand years in human civilization.
In my estimation, smart poetry is a blessing that can stimulate intelligent and creative thinking through its dedication to enriching Indonesia’s treasury of poetry.