Indonesian poet Joko 'Jokpin' Pinurbo recently launched a poetry book titled 'Buku Latihan Tidur' ('The Art of Sleeping') but the riveting content will certainly keep readers awake. (JG Photo/Dhania Putri Sarahtika)

Joko Pinurbo's New Poetry Book Highlights Creative Process, Religious Issues


AUGUST 14, 2017

Jakarta. Indonesian poet Joko "Jokpin" Pinurbo recently launched a poetry book titled "Buku Latihan Tidur," or "The Art of Sleeping," but the riveting content will certainly keep readers awake.

The book consists of poems written between 2014 and 2017, some of which have been published in the media.

Judging from the title, readers may think that the book is like a bedtime story or lullaby. Jokpin is known for his ability of turning everyday objects – such as a pair of trousers, a bed, a phone, or a stray cat – into puzzles leading to deep contemplation.

"People say my poems are narrations containing humor and irony about the absurdities of day-to-day life," Jokpin told the Jakarta Globe in an email interview on Thursday (10/08).

However, there are only a few poems with sleep as the main theme, so clearly Jokpin wants to convey something else.

"I chose that title for the book because it is interesting and attractive. It also represents the main spirit of the poetry collection. 'Sleeping' is obviously not merely an activity; not meant to be literally defined either. It is up to the readers to decide how they want to interpret it," Jokpin said.

The book's title is really based on an eponymous poem in the collection. The poem "Buku Latihan Tidur" can be interpreted as a time in the small hours when a writer's mind refuses to sleep because of bursts of inspiration.

The poem is placed among the first pages of the book, along with other works depicting the how-to of composing a poem as well as experimentation with language through rhymes, phonetic mix-ups and modification of common catchphrases.

Language and creative processes are under the spotlight in the book and Jokpin admits that "Buku Latihan Tidur" and "Kamus Kecil" ("Small Dictionary") are among his favorites.

Criticizing Intolerance

Jokpin, whose passion for writing poetry developed during his time in high school, rose to fame after the launch of his first poetry book titled "Celana" ("Trousers") in 1999. His influences span Sapardi Djoko Damono, Goenawan Mohamad,

Chairil Anwar, W.S. Rendra and Anthony de Mello. Most of Jokpin's subjects are everyday objects and situations, though commentary rather than serious issues occasionally makes an appearance.

Apart from the usual, it is quite novel that his latest book features his take on religious matters – particularly rising intolerance in Indonesia over the past few months.

"I see something that isn't right with the religious practices in our lives. Religion is used as a label and a tool for some pragmatic interests, which have destructive impacts," he said.

"Jalan-Jalan Bersama Presiden" ("A Walk With the President"), written last year, depicts the aftermath of a mass rally on a rainy day in December. The poem presumably refers to the mass prayer-cum-protest-rally of Dec. 2 by Muslims who demanded that former Jakarta governor, Basuki "Ahok" Tjahaja Purnama, be detained for alleged blasphemy.

In real life, President Joko "Jokowi" Widodo attended the rally to deliver a speech, but in the poem, he strolls down the streets at night and laments how lonely it is to live in an independent, yet loveless country.

Another is "Jalan Tuhan" ("God's Way"), which portrays a street in a village where passersby receive a sermon teaching them how to be pious. But when God is about to pass, He only smiles and tries to find another brighter, more comfortable street.

There are also tributes to former Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, better known as Gus Dur, and prominent Muslim cleric Mustofa Bisri, or Gus Mus. Both are known members of Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia's largest Muslim organization, which actively promotes pluralism.

"Gus Dur and Gus Mus are enlightening figures whose vision, attitude and treatment towards diversity have gone beyond religion; they see and treat other people as fellow creations of God and take religion as a source of loving and peaceful values," the 55-year-old poet said.

Another new feature in his book is the surrealist illustrations by Fandy Dwimarjaya. In addition to describing the poems, they convey deeper meaning.

"Illustrations are meant to be bookmarks between groups of poems. Each refers to a poem closest to it. […] But it is true that those illustrations can be enjoyed as poetry of their own," Jokpin said.

Message to Young Poets

Jokpin's stylistic and thematic exploration shows that no matter how many writers there are out there, language as a source of creativity will never be exhausted.

Jokpin and other poets, such as Agus Sarjono and Acep Zamzam Noor, mentored young poets from Southeast Asia at a writing workshop presented by the Ministry of Education and Culture at Cisarua in Bogor, West Java, last week.

"One of the important things I remind aspiring poets is that Bahasa Indonesia has potential to be explored creatively. I don't like to give tips. What is important is practicing to bring words to life and make them resonate, so that they're not just inanimate things or decorations," he said.