Packed with poetry: Sapardi’s
birthday recital reflects

The show was way overbooked.

Hundreds of teenagers, professionals, workers, students mothers and children blended together, queuing to enter the theater room at the Salihara center in Pasar Minggu, South Jakarta, last Friday.

During the show the audience played along with performers, and laughed out loud as if reading poems was part of their everyday routine.

No, it wasn’t a rock concert, featuring popular Indonesian bands Slank, D’massive or ST12 — it was a poetry recital to celebrate the 60th birthday of one of Indonesia’s most respected poets, Sapardi Djoko Darmono.

Sapardi is well known for works including Hujan Bulan Juni (Raining in June), Cintailah Aku Dengan Sederhana (Love Me in a Simple Way) and Berjalan ke Barat di Waktu Pagi Hari (Walking to the West in the Morning).

Dozens of youngsters, who were mostly the age of Sapardi’s grandchildren, sat on the floor or on the theater’s staircases because there were no more seats available.

“Sapardi has matched Slank,” noted actress Niniek L. Karim declared right before she read one of Sapardi’s poems that evening.

To add pop flavor to the show, TV soap opera star Happy Salma, a self-claimed die-hard fan of
Sapardi, recited several poems beautifully.

“Keep making poems for us, Pak,” she asked Sapardi, who sat in the front row watching his poems read.

While Sapardi’s poems are not as difficult as those of Chairil Anwar, arguably Indonesia’s greatest and most popular poet, both are equal in quality and are very serious, literary critic Nirwan Dewanto said in a speech before the recital.

A trend of using Sapardi’s verse “Love me in a simple way” on wedding invitations has been growing in recent years.

While some theories may suggest that the younger generations lack appreciation for literature because new media and video games have replaced their reading time, many teenagers proved this wrong at the recital.  

“I have read almost all of Sapardi’s poems, and have also begun to read those from other poets as well.

“I love them all,” said Sarah, a high school student from Manggarai.

While it may be too early to tell if Indonesia’s literature is showing signs of revival, one day before the Sapardi event, a similar-sized crowd was seen at a book launch at Taman Ismail Marzuki in Central Jakarta.

Youngsters flocked to the launch of Agus Noor’s new book of short stories, Sepotong Bibir Paling Indah di Dunia (The Most Beautiful Lip Parts in the World).

Agus, a member of the new generation of Indonesian short story writers, has many fans.

New Indonesian fiction writers have been growing in numbers and quality recently, proven by the emergence of Ayu Utami with her shocking novel Saman, or Dewi Lestari with her new book Perahu Kertas (Paper Boat).

Both of these literary works have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. Meanwhile, fans of literary works have also been growing.

“I try to buy books of poems, or novels, once a month. And I will catch any poetry recital show or book reading I can get to.

“It’s a relieving experience every time,” said Tia, a public servant in Jakarta.         

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