This is Poetry with an Agenda
(Adjunct Professor in the School of Languages, Literatures, Cultures and Linguistics
at Monash University in Melbourne)
Title : Aku, Perempuan, dan Kata-kata: Kumpulan Puisi Yacinta Kurniasih
Foreword : Rocky Gerung
Publication year : 2016
Publisher : YJP Press [Yayasan Jurnal Perempuan]
Paperback : 90 pages
Language : Indonesia
ISBN : 978-979-3520-23-0
This slim volume contains 52 poems, some short and some long, in the Indonesian language by the academic and activist Yacinta Kurniasih. It follows a similar volume of poems in English, To Whom it May Concern, produced by the same publisher in 2015. A third volume is planned, which will contain work in Javanese. In this way, three different languages will have been used.
As the title suggests, the main themes covered here are ‘Myself’, ‘Woman’ and ‘Words’. Of course there are more ideas than just these, but this is roughly the arrangement. The poems have dates, so that we can see that some are early and others are as recent as 2016. However, a chronological arrangement would have enabled us to assess the author’s development and growing maturity over time, as undoubtedly the later items seem in general to be more confident in thought and expression.
This is poetry with an agenda. The poems contribute to a discussion of issues current in Indonesia – and more broadly in the world – a prominent theme being the place of woman in her relations with man. The opening poem, Aku (p. 9, November 2013), sets the tone, with its stark ‘I am more than merely a hole for you to poke into and pour in your lust’. Others fiercely attack the male gender, even recruiting God (Tuhan) for the job of taming man (Kalau Tuhan perempuan, ‘If God were a woman’, p. 36, from June 2007).
Perhaps of more interest to students of language are the numerous pieces on the theme of Kata-kata, ‘Words’. This is clearly the work of someone who understands and values the proper use of language, who is a lover of words, proving to us that the modern Indonesian language is versatile and capable to conveying a range of messages. Words can be used as a weapon for the fight for social justice, for instance, as we see on p. 76 in ‘Let us use red words when we see red’. One notes the plays on words in such expressions as kerakusan pejabat bertingkah penjahat (p. 88), ‘the greed of officials acting like crooks’, or kebijakan tanpa kebajikan (p. 89), ‘policy without kindness.’
However, one may ask: What actually constitutes poetry? Ideas on this may vary. But one feels that sometimes the more political it is, the less poetical, for example in Laki-laki dan perempuan (p. 78, July 2016) with the bare statement: ‘Man and woman are a social construct, with man as the main constructor’. Two poems on a similar theme that appeal to me personally are Aku, Hutan Jati dan Indonesia (pp. 48-49, April 2016) and Aku dan Kedungjati (p. 70, August 2011), both drawing attention to the heartbreaking devastation of the teak forests around Kedungjati (Central Java, Yacinta’s home town), where the hills that once were covered with forest are now a barren wasteland. The theme of environmental degradation is of course relevant and important for many other parts of Indonesia.
Another set of poems that resonate with me are Mencari Pakdhe (‘Looking for Uncle’) (1) January 2010, (2) January 2016, and (3) January 2010, expressing a longing to meet a long-lost uncle, who must have held a special place in the author’s heart. It is interesting that even God cops a serve in several places, for example in Dan Tuhan (p. 51, April 2016): ‘And God becomes a part of the Ghost-story, most mysterious and astonishing, that often kills reason and the ability to question’, or in Tuhan masih mencari ‘God is still looking’ (pp. 86-87, December 2013), thinking of God as a pertanyaan besar, ‘big question mark’.
On most opposite pages we see charcoal drawings by a certain Dewi Candraningrum, depicting naked couples in various poses suggesting intimacy, completely at variance with the message of some poems on the male-female relationship, which imply not affection and warmth but aversion and hostility. And on the front cover there are nine acrylic paintings of female faces in a modern style by the same artist, which make no concessions to an ideal of beauty. A tiny note at the bottom of the back cover indicates that these nine faces are to be linked with the two last poems, Suara Perempuan Surokonto Wetan (‘Voice of the women of Surokonto Wetan’) and Perempuan-perempuan (‘Women’) (pp. 88-89, August 2016). On the back cover one of the three blurbs is one in English by Barbara Hatley, who provides a sympathetic assessment of the volume whichis well worth reading. These poems will reward close study from a linguistic viewpoint, as well as for the various messages contained in them. One looks forward to seeing more from this author in the near future.
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