Literature | Wednesday, 3 November 2010 | sundanesecorner.org
Little is my knowledge of the life and works of Handoko F. Zainsam, a Jakarta-based young poet. Yet a couple of days ago he rang me —he knows my number from a friend of mine— and let me know about his new book entitled Ma’rifat Bunda Sunyi ‘The Divine Knowledge of Solitary Mother’ (2011), a collection of poems that consists of three sections. He asked me to join a book discussion that has been held at UPI campus in Bandung this afternoon. Well, I love to read literary works.
At first sight his work has a sort of metaphysical inclination. Though the word ‘mysticism’ might not be applied to describe the poems properly, yet for the most parts they tend to express spiritual reflections, religious aphorisms, or something like that. At least one can get the tones from some idioms that are likely his own: ma’rifat ‘divine knowledge’, munajat ‘supplication’, tahajud ‘midnight prayer’, sunyi ‘solitary’, cinta ‘love’, kekasih ‘lover’, anggur ‘wine’, keabadian ‘eternity’, etc. Other poems in this anthology that throw some light on social issues as the subject matter seem to be an exception. (Handoko’s poems can also be accessed through his weblog: http://komunitasmataaksara.blogspot.com)
Since the era of the great Malayan poets, such as Hamzah Fansuri, Nurruddin Arraniri, Abdullah bin Albulkadir, and Amir Hamzah, Indonesian literature has formed a long tradition of spiritual and metaphysical lyric. Amir Hamzah has also translated the Baghawad Gita and some other works from ‘oriental literature’ into Indonesian language in his Setanggi Timur ‘Incense from the East’. Rabindranath Tagore’s works, especially the Gitanjali, are also well known here. Contemporary Indonesian poet, e.g. Mustafa Bisri, D. Zawawi Imron, Abdul Hadi W.M., Acep Zamzam Noor, and Joko Pinurbo, are among prominent figures whose lyrical works seem to have come out of religious background.
Learning from his predecessors, it seems that a long pathway has to be traced by Handoko in search of his own ‘language’. What I mean with ‘language’ in this respect has something to do with a manner in expressing the poet’s distinctive spiritual or metaphysical experience. Only the poet himself that know exactly what kind of experience he would like to reveal, yet the language —in which every word has only general meaning— that is available to him is always insufficient. Hence, he has to renew or refresh the general language so that it could more or less express the experience in question. Such expression as kekekalan abadi ‘eternal eternity’—no matter it could move the reader— seems to me as a needless pleonasm.
Hasan Mustapa, the great mystical poet of West Java, for an instance, explores several idioms from Sundanese daily life in order to express his own mystical experience. Though there are several idioms that derived from the Arabic, they are well absorbed into his own tongue. He said, among others, tangkal tanjung nyatana sidratul muntaha ‘tanjung tree is really the sidhrat al-muntaha’.
A far as the subject matter is concerned, the focal point of Handoko’s poems is the desire to relate the two different poetic personas: ‘I’ and ‘Thou’. His poems seem to have a strong inclination to a state of being absorbed into a mystical relation. This leitmotif is indeed one of common elements in mystical poetry.