poetry, review

Perjamuan Khong Guan

Earlier this year, Joko Pinurbo, Indonesia’s much beloved poet, had just released his latest poem collection, Perjamuan Khong Guan. It is divided into four parts (or, cans, in this case), and some numbers may not sound new anymore after their previous appearances in newspapers last year. However, Pinurbo’s die-hard fans and loyal audience were sure excited about the release, because his works, newly or re-released, are always being looked forward to. Moreover, the title has in it the biscuit brand which is not only legendary but also has become everyone’s yearly joke at the Eid ul-Fitr day celebration in our country.

The first part (or, Can One) deals mostly with the growth of a place, a society, a country. But it’s not particularly in a good sense of the word. For example, in poem Dari Jendela Pesawat (From the Airplane Window), which talks about the growth of a city, Pinurbo says:

“Besi, beton, dan cahaya
tumbuh di mana-mana.” — page 12
(“Iron, concrete, lights
stuck out everywhere.” — my translation)

He seems to use a sarcastic tone more than readers can sense. And it sounds stronger when it comes to the growth of our country and politics, saying that this era is getting wilder and our politics is getting “louder”. He blatantly points out that our country and politics are not something we can rely on. In Pesta (Party), he even criticizes the last presidential election event where the officials were “forced” to work till midnight and died after being overworked without getting due compensation, all the while, of course, the candidates were fighting for the No. 1 position and the winner blissfully rejoiced in his victory.

However, the most regrettable growth that Pinurbo laments in Can One is the growth of technology, as readers can see clearly in several numbers such as Markipul (where the use of smartphones has driven people crazy), Doa Orang Sibuk yang 24 Jam Sehari Berkantor di Ponselnya — a very obvious title which literally translates A Prayer by Someone who is Busy Working in His Cell Phone for 24 Hours, talking about how someone is so absorbed in his gadget and unconsciously forgets about praying to God. In Fotoku Abadi (My Pic is Eternal) people really think that the photography technology can make them immortal (in pictures).

The second part, or Can Two, is more of a place where Joko Pinurbo flaunts his well-known linguistic sense of humor. The title of every single poem is actually a common idiom in Indonesian language, but when you read the entire poem you’ll get that these groups of words are used literally. For example, the poem entitled Kamar Kecil (which is an idiom for a restroom) turns out to be talking about a small room (its literal meaning); Catatan Kaki (or, footnote) talks about writing a note on a sleeping person’s foot. The funniest moment would probably be when we encounter the poem Mimpi Basah (wet dream) in which the character there is not having a sexually exciting dream but a nightmare of falling into a river instead. And while he is all wet, he feels so deeply sad as he sees his late father in the dream. The title Datang Bulan (menstruation) is also ironically funny, because the content of the poem is not, for it talks about an employee who has to work till midnight with the company of the moon (bulan) — which, as we dig deep into it, actually shows the distress of an overworked white-collar worker.

Can Three is a bunch of stories about the character Minnah: her birth, her family, her home, her school, etc. There are, however, three or four poems which are the most engrossing. Sekolah Minnah (Minnah’s School) insinuates the unpleasant truth that people in common never use their brains when talking, saying things without thinking. This is particularly interesting as there is the word “school” in the title, a place where people should be learning through thinking — again, the poet is secretly making fun of people. The second interesting one is Kepala Minnah (Minnah’s Head), in which Pinurbo mourns over the state of libraries, especially in our country, which often only have a very few visitors. This might be no surprise since our country is known to have a very low rate of reading interest. However, Uang Minnah (Minnah’s Money) is the one that punches readers in the face the hardest, especially those who are so stingy. It reminds us that we don’t need to wait to have fortune to be generous.

“Merasa kaya kadang lebih
berguna daripada kaya sungguhan.” ― page 91
(“Thinking that we’re rich is sometimes
more useful than being actually rich.” ― my translation)

The entire idea of the fourth part is to give the Khong Guan biscuit can its own narrative. The poems talk about the family portrayed on the can, especially the absent father whose presence is always questioned by the biscuit fans or the passer-by consumers. And his being absent is indeed explained in Keluarga Khong Guan (The Khong Guan Family), but it is in the form of criticism of Indonesian language, nationalism, and the printed media. Speaking of criticism, it’s as if Pinurbo cannot stop bemoaning the new era where everything seems to be in such a mess: the houses in villages not having yards anymore (Mudik Khong Guan); the biscuit can holding today’s newest gadgets (Bingkisan Khong Guan); and, once again, the overuse of smartphones by the younger generation that the grandma in Simbah Khong Guan feels neglected by her own family.

Some readers might be a bit tired of his always simple style and think that he only sells themes, not the beauty of the “poetic forms”. But we have to admit that he is linguistically apt and what he brings forward as themes are always thought-provoking. He is a word player and a keen observer of life and that’s what makes him a beloved poet. His collection this time is an undisputed proof of what he is capable of.

Joko Pinurbo’s works are always about twisting daily lives into linguistically hilarious, satirical musings. And now that our daily lives cannot be separated from gadgets, the gist can be seen in most of his poems here in Perjamuan Khong Guan: from the first part to the last, lamenting the craze over smartphones and how it affects our social lives and communication with real people in real life. The senior poet also bewails the “growth” of our country, which cannot be said to be “okay”.

Rating: 4/5

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