Thu, 28 Aug 2003

International poetic feast on display in Bali

I Wayan Juniartha, The Jakarta Post, Denpasar, Bali

He recited the first line and everybody in the audience fell silent, instantly aware that before them stood a man who had survived the bitterest of days, the coldest of nights. The half darkened stage or the dim yellow light could not conceal the energy that shone with his soaring words.

"Something comes to you/from afar tonight, tethering its horse/in the courtyard while children/gather ghosts and shadows/among the stones."

Hundreds of literary enthusiasts, who flocked the Wantilan hall of Denpasar's Werddhi Budaya Art Center for the first night of the International Literary Feast last Friday, were equally mesmerized and stimulated by the poem, which, on the surface, spoke about black magic and, on a deeper level, about death.

"He was simply fantastic, I have never known that a poem could be delivered in such a tremendously powerful way," said Cok Yudhis, a spectator.

The poem was Possession and the poet was Frans Nadjira, a towering yet elusive figure in Bali literary circles. The hardships of his adolescent years, the tragic demise of his beloved daughter and the banal hypocrisy he often encountered in the art and literary world has transformed Nadjira into a solitary figure.

On the other hand, his reclusive life and psychic gift have bestowed him with a lucid and tranquil understanding of the inevitability of death. That comprehension was a recurring theme in his works, poems and paintings.

Along with soft-spoken senior poet Umbu Landu Paranggi, Nadjira was the living force behind the renaissance of Bali contemporary literature in the '80s and '90s, the shining period that gave birth to numerous talented and award-winning poets and authors like Fajar Arcana, Mas Ruscitadewi, Oka Rusmini, Cok Sawitri, Tan Lioe Ie and Warih Wisatsana.

"It was my first on-stage poetry recitation after 20 long years and I am very happy that I did it," Frans Nadjira said.

The three-day event, which was co-organized by the Dutch-based Winternachten Festival, Jakarta-based Komunitas Utan Kayu and Bali-based Kelompok Tulus Ngayah, had not only succeeded in persuading Nadjira to take the stage once again, but also in providing local literary enthusiasts with arguably one of the finest literary events so far.

With Sound Poetry From Different Faiths as its theme, the festival featured on it first night poetry recitations by Chitra Gajadin (Suriname), Ide Hintze (Austria), Adriaan Van Dis (Netherlands), Oka Rusmini (Bali) and two religious musical performances.

The second night's poetry recitation presented Warih Wisatsana and promising young poet Vivi Lestari from Bali, Changa Hickinson (St. Marteen, Antilles), Sello Dulker (South Africa), Curd Duca (Austria) and a monologue performance by Balinese actor Putu Satria Kusuma.

The second night undoubtedly belonged to Denise Jannah (Suriname), an accomplished jazz singer who sung poems from Suriname and the Netherlands accompanies by her easy-listening musical compositions.

Assisted prominent Indonesian poet and thinker Goenawan Mohamad, who translated the poems into Indonesian, Denise's warm personality and spellbinding voice easily won the audience's heart.

"Jannah did not force her tunes, compositions or perceptions on the poems. Instead, she let the musical quality of the poems, the words, come out freely. She based her compositions on the poems' inherent melody, that's why her songs were so beautiful and so true to the messages of the poems," said Tulus Ngayah coordinator's Cok Sawitri.

Ulil Abshar Abdalla, an influential liberal Muslim intellectual, provided his valuable insights on Islamic militancy in a small discussion held on the event's third day.

In conjunction with the event, a workshop on sound poetry was held in Kuta. Assisted by the Vienna Poetry School, a selected group of 20 students from different ethnic and religious origins were given a chance to explore their religious experiences and to transform those into experimental sound poems.

Several poets, composers and artists, including Denise Jannah, Curd Duca, Ide Hintze, Made Taro and Hasif Amini were involved in the workshop, sharing their experiences and assisting the students in exploring new aesthetic frontiers.

These collaborative works of the students and their mentors would be featured at a similar event in Jakarta in early September.

"The workshop has showed me that Bali has plenty of talented young poets. It also opened my eyes to the possibility of using new mediums like digitalized sounds in creating poetry," Sawitri said.