Monday, August 4, 2008

POEMS & PIECES, #4, July/August, 2008 : Correspondence


Notes from Sydney

I returned to Sydney after attending most of the splendid 'Poetry and the Trace' conference, convened by Monash University, and involving the School of English, Communications and Performance Studies together with the Centre for Women's Studies and Gender Research. It was a pioneering conference, in so many ways, and all credit is due to the convenors, and more generally, Monash University, for sponsoring it. As one who takes a keen interest in aspects of 20th century English modernist poetry, as well as our own 'Australian story', it nevertheless did highlight for me the relative lack of knowledge amongst our younger generation of poets about developments in our Asia-Pacific region. Perhaps this could be the focus of another conference at a later time.
As one who has followed some of these developments in recent years, it may interest readers to learn of some of my recent publications in the field of contemporary Indonesian poetry, following research at Sydney University. The book Contemporary Indonesian Language Poetry from West Java: National Literature, Regional Manifestations (VDM-Verlag, Germany, May 2008, ISBN: 978-3-639-00952-1) maps out aspects of developments in contemporary Indonesian language poetry in West Java. While there have been various studies undertaken concerning the development of modern Indonesian literature, paradoxically relatively few have focused on the regional setting of the modern Indonesian literature story. Those that have taken account of regional developments have tended to examine literature in the Indonesian regional languages themselves, such as Javanese and Sundanese. Following research over the years 2002-2006, I show how a number of contemporary poets in West Java have considered their local environmental settings and developed creative literary responses that cross boundaries into the realms of mystery and the mystical, of allusion or hard-edged realism. A feature of this book is the large number of English language translations of work of some prominent poets from West Java. A national literature, in its regional manifestations, explained in English, with Indonesian language original and source material. For those not wishing to source the work in book form, most of the material covered can also be accessed at:
I have also completed two self-standing journal articles which explore the work of two poets from West Java - Nenden Lilis Aisyah and Acep Zamzam Noor. In 'Mystery, Allusion and Realism: Beyond the Local in the Indonesian language poetry of Nenden Lilis Aisyah' (Orientierungen - Zeitschrift zur Kultur Asiens, Bonn, Vol. 19, No 1, 1/2007, pp. 47-83), I suggest that one of the challenges facing contemporary 'regional' poets writing in Indonesian today is how to achieve a balance between poetry that draws upon the strengths engendered by allusions to aspects of the local, often rural, environment whilst at the same time producing a poetry that has potentially universal appeal beyong the local geographical context.That article examined some of the dominant characteristics and themes taken up in her Indonesian language poetry by Nenden Lilis Aisyah, born in Malangbong, Garut, West Java in 1971. I also suggest that Nenden's approach to poetry writing represents a distinctive style of verse in the Indonesian pantheon of contemporary writing by women - the balance between 'mystery' and 'exploitation' which is at the heart of her poetry.
In 'Mysticism, aestheticism and activism : Towards the universal in the Indonesian language poetry of Acep Zamzam Noor', in Orientierungen - Zeitschrift zur Kultur Asiens, Bonn, Vol. 20, No. 1, 1/2008, pp. 109-147, I refer to Secrets Need Words, the landmark 2001 survey by Harry Aveling of Indonesian language poetry written between 1966 and 1998.Aveling employed the term 'new Sufism' to describe the emergence onto the Indonesian literary scene of a number of pesantren-linked poets, such as Emha Ainun Nadjib, Ahmadun Yosi Herfanda and Acep Zamzam Noor. This article examines some of the Indonesian language poetry of Acep Zamzam Noor, born in Tasikmalaya, West Java, in 1960. It explores some of the poems described by Aveling under the 'new Sufist' rubric, but suggests that there are a number of additional characteristics in Acep's verse. Poetry written by Acep whilst in Europe in the 1990s can also be considered as evidencing the centrality of the poet's ideas about the 'aesthetic experience', even if many of the poems from this period also bear traces of what might be termed a 'Sufist imprint'. Such poems also seem to be greatly influenced by the fact that Acep is not solely a poet but a painter of some note too. In other more localised poetry, aspects of the environment in rural West Java enter into his poetry as metaphors for life and existence, per se. Yet there is also a sharp satirical edge to range of poems written by this poet-activist as he grapples with ideas about the responsibilities of the artist in contemporary Indonesia. In addition to the many translations into English of a selection of Acep's poetry within the journal article, the article (in English) is also accompanied by a series of translations of Acep's poems into German by German Indonesianist and literary translator, Berthold Damshauser.
Quite apart from my literary research, in recent years I have been writing poetry in Indonesian and in 2004 and 2007 I undertook a series of literary visits to Indonesia with readings of my Indonesian language poetry in West Java and Bali (2004) and West Java (2007) in conjunction with local literary and other associations. Some background information on my interest in writing in Indonesian is set out at: A collection of twenty five of these poems was published in February 2008 at: (Indonesian)
and ) (English). In the collection, titled Selatan-Sur-South and published in Indonesian in the UTS ejournal, PORTAL, in February 2008, I traverse sites in Australia, Indonesia and Latin America from the standpoint of one interested in exploring what it means to be ' a poet from the South'.

Whilst in Melbourne in July I also attended two other conferences, also sponsored by Monash University!! For these conferences I did present session papers. The theme of the 17th Biennial Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia, convened by Dr Marika Vicziany, Director, Monash Asia Institute, with others at Monash, was the question: 'Is this the Asian Century', with keynote speakers from the People's Republic of China, with various perspectives, and other speakers from the Indian Subcontinent. Lively discussion ensued derived from the current focus in Australian public affairs on the roles of China and also India and Pakistan, in particular, with the issues of human rights always a recurring theme. Given my academic background in the literature of contemporary Indonesia, especially contemporary Indonesian language poetry, a session strand of particular interest to me at the conference was that organized by Dr Julian Millie, Monash Asia Institute, on 'Reading Nusantara Writing'. Sixteen session papers explored aspects of the texts and writings of the Malay world, of contemporary Indonesian poetry and of Javanese, Buginese and Balinese texts and performance genres. My own paper: 'Neruda's Asia: Interpreting aspects of the life and poetry of Chilean Poet, Pablo Neruda (1904-1973), and the reception of his poetry into contemporary Indonesian literature' represents, in part, an attempt to look at new material - about Neruda's life in Burma, Ceylon and the Dutch East Indies from 1927-1931. Much useful information is now becoming available from works in Spanish, such as Hernan Loyola's 2006 book Neruda: La biografia literaria, which covers the period 1904-1932 of Neruda's life. A highlight of the session was a first-ever reading I did of Harry Aveling's English language co-translation of a poem by contemporary Indonesian poet, Cecep Syamsul Hari, titled "Molto Allegro", which takes Neruda's 1933 poem, "Walking Around", as a point of departure. It was pleasing that the co-translator was able to hear a rendering of the English translation of one of the very fine poems from this contemporary Indonesian poet whose work has recently been included in the new (April 2008) Norton anthology of poetry, Language for a new Century: Contemporary poetry from the Middle East, Asia and beyond(ed.Tina Chang et al.)

The theme of the Biennial Association of Iberian and Latin American Studies of Australasia convened by Stewart King and others at Monash University was: 'The Popular in Spain, Portugal and Latin America'. In my session paper: 'Popular reactions to the death of Augusto Pinochet (1915-2006): Aspects of the Chilean experience of 2006', I looked at the events that occurred in Santiago de Chile in December 2006 when Pinochet died, and drew upon some of the satirical coverage which appeared in December 2006 in the Chilean broadsheet review, The Clinic. This Spanish language bi-weekly, established in 1998, has set new standards in satire and topical cultural comment and is a part of the 'new wave' of Chilean writing and publishing that has emerged in Chile since 1998 when Pinochet finally left the post of Armed Forces Commander. As one with an academic specialisation in Indonesian Studies - who just happened to be in Chile in December 2006 when Pinochet died - I was struck by the many similarities between the Chilean experiences (with Pinochet), and those in Indonesia (with Soeharto).

1 comment:

VarshaVijay said...

Hi you write good. But the length of the post should be reduced if possible. You tend to write very very long. Just a thought and keep up the good work.