(Professor Emeritus Asian Studies Program University of Tasmania)
In this small book of poetry in English, Yacinta Kurniasih, lecturer in Indonesian Studies at Monash University and long-time poetry writer and performer, introducing herself, as a:
“... tiny, ballsy….crazy, sexy
… Javanese, Indonesian, Asian, internationalist
… feminist, extremist, optimist, activist” (“The United Nations of Me”)
engages with many key themes in contemporary life. In asserting her own views and experiences as a woman and a feminist she also contributes to a wider movement in contemporary Indonesia, in which feminist poetry and literature more generally serves as a site of challenge to conventional gender attitudes and resistance to patriarchal culture and religion. Yacinta addresses these themes as universal experiences (“Heterosexual Man’s Theory ”) and as particular issues in the Indonesian context–the phenomenon of veiling (“Man’s Language of Veil”, “Woman’s Language of Veil”,) and the two-finger test of virginity applied by the armed forces (“Two Finger Salute”). The strength and directness of these poems, the honesty and intimacy of expression, the bold engagement with sexual themes is surprising, often remarkable, for those familiar with Indonesian literature and culture. Readers without such a background, perhaps influenced by stereotypical views of Indonesia and ‘Asian women’, will find them truly revelatory.
Along with gender relations the poems address other Indonesian political issues, particularly the legacy of the anti-communist violence of 1965, as well as wider socio-political questions very relevant in contemporary Australia–race relations (“ To Whom it May Concern – the world is not white”), the dominance of English (“Rage Against English”), fear of terrorism, migration and the Other (“ The current dictionary of Australian Fear”) and climate change ( “The Earth is talking”). All these poems embody an impressive energy, daring, wry sense of humour, and skilfully succinct expression, in conveying Yacinta’s distinctive woman’s voice as a sharp-eyed observer of and participant in Indonesian and Australian life.
Hopefully future publications will provide the chance to engage with her Indonesian language poetry, delving deeper into Indonesian personal and social reality, while more poems in English open up for readers the world of Indonesian-Australian-male–female- inter–class, inter-cultural relations and reality as experienced by this multi-talented, multi-identitied participant and commentator.
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