Legendary Indonesian poet Sapardi Djoko Damono. (JG Photo/Yudhi Sukma Wijaya)

Time is Transient, Sapardi's Poems Are Eternal


MARCH 23, 2017

Jakarta. Age is just a number to 77-year-old prominent poet Sapardi Djoko Damono. His poetry speaks not only to fellow men of letters, but also to common readers of all generations, who are moved by the depth of his words.

Prolific Sapardi launched seven new books at Bentara Budaya Jakarta on his birthday celebration, on Wednesday (22/03).

Among the new books are poetry anthologies "Sutradara Itu Menghapus Dialog Kita" ("The Director Erased Our Dialogues"), "Kolam" ("Pond"), "Duka-Mu Abadi" ("Your Grief Is Eternal"), "Ada Berita Apa Hari Ini, Den Sastro?" ("What's the News Today, Den Sastro?"), "Ayat-Ayat Api" ("Fire Verses"), "Namaku Sita" ("My Name Is Sita") and a novel, "Pingkan Melipat Jarak" ("Pingkan Folds the Distance"), the second part of "Hujan Bulan Juni" ("Rain in June") trilogy.

"Hujan Bulan Juni" is also about to get a silver-screen adaptation by director Hestu Saputra.

With a book launch attended by fellow writers and readers, Sapardi was not celebrating a birthday, but a rebirth.

"Happy rebirth day. We are proud to publish seven books at once," said Gramedia Pustaka Utama president director Wandi S. Brata.

Sapardi did not take all the limelight on the day. The small stage of Bentara Budaya was brimming with authors, artists and public figures who read or sing his poems.

In the opening speech, fellow poet Goenawan Mohamad proudly called Sapardi one of Indonesia's beloved poets.

Iwan Setiawan, author of "9 Summers, 10 Autumns," read Sapardi's "New York 1971."

"When I was in New York, Sapardi's poem reverberated in my head. It truly described how crowded, how lonesome, how suffocating New York was. New York could be full of love, yet full of lies," he told the audience.

TV journalist Tina Talisa read "Perahu Kertas" ("Paper Boat"), a poem she considered simple in diction but deep in meaning. Emerging young writers Cyntha Hariadi and Ni Made Purnama Sari read "Berjalan ke Barat di Waktu Pagi Hari" ("Walking Westward in the Morning") and "Sebuah Taman Sore Hari" ("A Park in the Evening").

Some poems were not only read, but also musicalized by duo Tatyana Soebianto and Umar Muslim.

Poet Joko Pinurbo went on the stage and shared his memories about the first time he encountered Sapardi through "Sajak Desember" ("December Poem") written in 1961.

He also entertained the audience with his remarks about Sapardi.

"Sapardi and I never argue about which one of us is skinnier," he said in a word play, referring to a line from Sapardi's poem "Berjalan ke Barat di Waktu Pagi Hari" ("Walking Westward in the Morning") — "the sun and I don't argue about which one of us creates the shadow."

Poet Joko PInurbo reads Sapardi Djoko Damono's 'Sajak Desember' ('December Poem') at Bentara Budaya Jakarta on Wednesday (22/03). (JG Photo/Dhania Putri Sarahtika)

Sapardi was interviewed in the middle of the performances. The solemn expression he kept while listening to others reading his works was replaced by a more relaxed one.

"My most favorite book is the one I haven't written. If I liked any of these books, I wouldn't write again," he said.

The recipient of the 1988 Southeast Asian Writers Award and 2016 Habibie Award remained very casual; he did not speak they way he does in his poetry. He advised aspiring writers, especially the younger ones, to emotionally distance themselves from their work.

"When you're head over heels in love and you write a poem, all you'll write will be mawkish. When you're angry at the government and you write a poem, it will be filled with exclamation marks. If you're angry, just organize a rally instead of writing," said the literature professor of the University of Indonesia.

Born in Solo, Central Java, Sapardi studied English literature at Gadjah Mada University. He has been writing poetry, essays and plays since 1969. He currently teaches at the Jakarta Institute of Arts and Diponegoro University.