The Poetry Project

Paviliun Puisi + The Jakarta Poets

PavPu Tak Bisa, Poetry Can

by Mikael Johani

The last time I went to PavPu was on 29 February. I arrived early, around six o’clock, just as the Maghrib call to prayer sounded. Bought two packs of Esse Honey Pop from the Alfamart next door. Ray loves these cigarettes. I’ve been scabbing too many. The big red door to Paviliun 28 was shiny and clean from a recent rain. We sometimes put up posters for the punters so they know what theme we were doing for the open mic, but we didn’t have time to print any this time. The theme was “Jakarta Tak Bisa,” Jakarta Can Not—Tak Bisa is an anagram of Kabisat, the Indonesian word for the leap year. We thought, we’ve been around for three years, who knows if we’ll ever get to experience another 29 February. Maybe tak bisa?

I went straight to the bar. I could still see traces of “E,” a long poem written by Paul, about his years of experience taking care of his late wife who died of cancer. We’d printed it on a long piece of transparent paper and glued it on the concrete bar table. That was two years ago. The words had been slowly disappearing since, just like E’s last breath in the last lines of the poem that when Paul mimicked it on stage reduced everyone to tears/silence. He had read the poem on a long continuous scroll, Kerouac-like. That was the first time he’d ever read a poem in public.

A young singer called Pamungkas contacted me last year, said he wanted to turn “that poem” into a song. I didn’t know words had gotten around about Paul’s impressive debut performance. I looked up Pamungkas’s live videos on YouTube. He’d been touring all over Indonesia, massive young crowds everywhere, everyone singing along to the lyrics. “E” is now “Modern Love,” a pop hit. Words get around, indeed.

We’ve always had many debutants at PavPu, peeps who had never read a poem in public, or even performed anything in front of an audience. There was Ara, a dude who spat out mean rhymes about his life as a teen drug mule in Mampang, “Straight outta Mampang!”, who said he’d been writing rhymes and setting them to music in his room for years but never really got along with the hip-hop scene, so never performed them live, and thought open mic poetry was lame until he saw a DJ-poet duo played at PavPu. I remember him telling me months later he got such a buzz out of performing, how it did wonders for his confidence and he finally gathered enough courage to apply to become a DJ at his favourite radio station in Jakarta.

Then there were all the queer poets. Since everything goes at PavPu, read in whatever language you want, about whatever you want, never censor anything let alone yourself, a lot of themes never talked about in mainstream Indonesian poetry, or only talked about in conceits, are talked about at PavPu, and in increasingly frontal tone and language. Young poets write and read (scream) lines in Jakarta slang, English, and codeswitch. Queer poets don’t have to talk about fish as a metaphor for sex anymore. They can be who they are at PavPu. They inject queer performativity into their stage performance. I went to London last year and when I saw a gay couple holding hands as they walked briskly into Liverpool Station, it suddenly struck me, there aren’t that many public spaces/places where queer people can do that freely in Jakarta. And for queer folks who love poetry, there’s only PavPu. Whenever I see Ray aka Mikhaél, one of the PavPu organizers who had just released their first poetry book, the great fairy ritual, hop on a Gojek scooter taxi in their kimono, long shiny black locks flowing out of a green helmet, I feel hope for the future.

I went behind the bar, chatted with Amir, the bartender. He wasn’t just the bartender, he took care of everyone when we got too drunk, ordered us Uber on our phones when we were too out of it, and mixed the best Abidin, a cocktail of “medicinal” sweet red wine and ice cold pilsener beer, that we relied on as a cheap way to get hammered. Around where we are in hip South Jakarta, a pint of beer costs Rp 115,000. A 620ml bottle of Amer, the sweet red wine, costs Rp 100,000. No contest. One night it was our turn to take care of him, when Amir finally got drunk enough himself to take to the stage and then passed out in the mini cinema at the back. We had to wake him up at four in the morning to pay our bills.

There was also Nia, the old manager of the place, a true patron/guardian angel. She let us do anything we wanted and introduced us to many different artists. “You want to turn the bar into a theatre stage? Pinter? Isn’t that a bit old?” “You want to load all those modular analog synths? As long as you put the tables and chairs back where they were.” “She wants to read a poem while butchering a chicken? Let me get my good knife.” And then she’d disappear into the tiny kitchen at the back with the curtain door and cook us up a Nasi Semrawut, piping hot white rice with corned beef and fresh chili topping. So delicious.

Back on the concrete bar I met a middle-aged woman I’d never seen before. We’ve always had many random new people coming in on every last Saturday of the month. There was the girl who came early and sat quietly at the bar for almost the whole night and then put her name down to read a poem right at the end when everyone was already tired, a poem about animals escaping from a zoo and jumping into the ocean, and then she explained unprompted that she had lost a friend just the week before. He’d drowned himself in the sea, they’d tried to save him but he died in her arms. And then she left and we never saw her again.

I asked the woman at the bar how she’d heard about PavPu. “Oh I was just here for a meeting.” We shook hands anyway. She saw my Honey Pops and asked if she could have one. I opened one of the packs and gave her two. She quietly drew on the thin sweet clove cigarettes and then got up to leave. “We’d better not shake hands again, because of, you know, corona,” she said.

Two weeks later as we began our lockdown I had a fever. Swollen toes. Sore throat. Low mood with premonitions of a panic attack that I get when I smoke too much pot. But tests weren’t available and I recovered after about five days.

Two weeks after that we started our Zoom Existence. We created the theme “Menjauh Tapi Mendekat”—Getting Further Away But Getting Closer Anyway—to last for the entire pandemic, which, considering our government was still pouring money into promoting tourism in March, we expect to last forever. We bought a premium Zoom account. And we’re still here, in our sixth month of Zoom Existence. So far we’ve had an interpretive pole dance inside a tiny kost set to a Björk song, a Zoom rave when someone shared a screen from Courtesy’s set at Hör Berlin (pre-pandemic we used to turn off the lights at the end of each open mic session and danced the night away to a Spotify playlist), and of course hundreds of poems on lockdown life. PavPu tak bisa, but poetry goes on, words get around.

Paviliun Puisi is organised by Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas, Mikael Johani, Mikhaél, Kezia Alaia, and Rendy Satrya every last Saturday of the month. On Zoom until a corona vaccine is distributed equally around the world. Anyone can join, all languages are welcome, at

Sound recording using live loops by Edo Wallad of his own poem, “Carousel” from Pesta Sebelum Kiamat

The Poetry Project · Edo Wallad - Carousel

Text of the poem:

aku ingin menggesek lagi senar biola jiwaku
agar namamu hadir di nada dan cahaya yang terus
berputar, pindah ke kuda biru
ke kuda tanpa pelana
lalu ke sado tanpa kusir
berputar memandang bianglala
berputar ke kiri memandang tornado
hanya melihat
hanya berputar
kurajut senar biola
tak pernah terputus
hanya berputar
mencari nada yang tepat
di sana kutemukan wajahmu, di cahaya dan musik
terus mendengung

Pacarku​ ​Paul​ ​Varjak​ ​dan​ ​Aku​ ​Cuma​ ​Phony:​ ​A​ ​Thread

Untuk​ ​Anya​ ​Rompas

by Syarafina Vidyadhana

Barusan​ ​pacarku​ ​bilang,​ ​dia​ ​menulis​ ​puisi​ ​yang​ ​itu​ ​in​ ​one​ ​sitting​ ​aja.
Sementara​ ​dia​ ​menyelesaikan​ ​puisinya​ ​dalam​ ​​setengah​ ​jam​ ​lah,​ ​Sayang​,

zaman​ ​sudah​ ​berganti​ ​dan​ ​punyaku​ ​belum​ ​rampung​ ​juga.​ ​Translation
always​ ​comes​ ​first​ ​(the​ ​bill​ ​isn’t​ ​gonna​ ​pay​ ​itself),​ ​lalu​ ​artikel​ ​always

comes​ ​next​ ​(I​ ​need​ ​to​ ​​feel​​ ​productive).​ ​Puisi?​ ​Kapan-kapan​ ​aja​ ​deh
(when​ ​I’m​ ​pretty​ ​and​ ​pretty​ ​rich).​ ​​O​​ ​​Excuses,​ ​Excuses...​ ​excuse​ ​me,​ ​please.

My​ ​boyfriend​ ​and​ ​my​ ​lover​ ​are​ ​attracted​ ​to​ ​each​ ​other​ ​and​ ​now​ ​they’re
having​ ​fun​ ​without​ ​me.​ ​Apa​ ​dia​ ​cemburu​ ​juga​ ​waktu​ ​aku​ ​play​ ​Journalist,

padahal​ ​gak​ ​bisa​ ​bedain​ ​yang​ ​mana​ ​Purwokerto​ ​yang​ ​mana​ ​Purwakarta?
But​ ​I​ ​wrote​ ​my​ ​articles​ ​anyways,​ ​and​ ​he​ ​wrote​ ​his​ ​damn poems.​ ​Belum​ ​seperti

yang​ ​disarankan​ ​F.​ ​Scott​ ​Fitzgerald​ ​pada​ ​Frances​ ​Turnbull​, sih,
​but​ ​he’s​ ​got​ ​style.​ ​Dan​ ​itu​ ​penting!​ ​Dan​ ​aku​ ​belum​ ​punya.

Dia​ ​bilang​ ​​Mungkin,​ ​aku​ ​bisa​ ​lebih​ ​santai​ ​karena​ ​banyak​ ​yang​ ​aku
gak​ ​tahu,​ ​Sayang.​ ​Aku​ ​belum​ ​terbebani​ ​keinginan​ ​jadi​ ​bagus​. ​Aku​ ​bilang

Aku​ ​ingin​ ​jadi​ ​bagus​ ​and​ ​this​ ​is​ ​not​ ​something​ ​I​ ​can​ ​​un​want,​ ​Sayang!
They​ ​say​ ​I​ ​have​ ​a​ ​good​ ​eye​ ​tapi​ ​aku​ ​maunya​ ​punya​ ​good​ ​poems​ ​aja,​ ​boleh?

Empat​ ​tahun​ ​setengah​ ​gonta-ganti​ ​Moleskine​ ​acung​ ​tangan​ ​cari​ ​muka
ujian​ ​ujian​ ​ujian​ ​skripsi,​ ​akhirnya​ ​cuma​ ​jadi​ ​poet​ ​who​ ​tiptoes​ ​around​ ​words

because​ ​she​ ​respects​ ​the​ ​medium​ ​way​ ​too​ ​much?​ ​Respect/Fear​ ​beda​ ​tipis
ya​ ​sis.​ ​Kalau​ ​hidup​ ​itu​ ​high​ ​risk​ ​dan​ ​sastra​ ​itu​ ​low​ ​commodity,​ ​how

does​ ​Mrs.​ ​Grace​ ​sleep​ ​at​ ​night?​ ​Don’t​ ​you​ ​wonder​ ​if​ ​her​ ​grocery​ ​list
rhymes?​ ​I​ ​thought​ ​I​ ​heard​ ​a​ ​friend​ ​said​ ​​soliloquy​,​ ​but​ ​turned​ ​out​ ​he

actually​ ​said​ ​​somniloquy​.​ ​Jangan-jangan,​ ​selama​ ​ini​ ​Hamlet—!
Kami​ ​tidur​ ​di​ ​ranjang​ ​yang​ ​sama​ ​setiap​ ​malam,​ ​brave​ ​the​ ​same​ ​horrible

traffic​ ​every​ ​morning,​ ​turn​ ​to​ ​the​ ​same​ ​old​ ​Rick​ ​and​ ​Morty,​ ​laugh
at​ ​the​ ​same​ ​dumb​ ​memes,​ ​tapi​ ​kok​ ​he​ ​has​ ​something​ ​to​ ​write​ ​about​ ​and

I​​ ​don’t?​ ​Mike​ ​bilang​ ​nulis​ ​in​ ​one​ ​sitting​ ​only​ ​needs​ ​time,​ ​which​ ​is​ ​hard
to​ ​get.​ ​(God,​ ​I​ ​hope​ ​he’s​ ​right.)​ ​Di​ ​hari-hari​ ​seperti​ ​ini,​ ​aku

ingin​ ​memikirkan​ ​hal​ ​lain.​ ​I​ ​mean,​ ​it’s​ ​a​ ​beautiful​ ​day​ ​outside.
Tapi​ ​yang​ ​terlintas​ ​cuma​ ​Puisi.​ ​:'(

Jakarta,​ ​September​ ​2017
(​not​​ ​in​ ​one​ ​sitting) 

Berbau Koloni

oleh Farhanah

“Sometimes I feel sorry for straight people,”
katamu sebelum kita berpisah di Galle Road
dan mulai membeli rindu dengan Mastercard
yang pecah-belah sekejap kartu digesek

Setiap malam sehabis kelas
kita menari dan meludah di club yang berbeda
poskolonialisme tak butuh tidur untuk dicerna
sebab sebelum kita lahir
roh-roh sudah membisiki
siapa musuh kita
seisi kota juga sudah mengingatkan
lewat lembap trotoar
keringat nenek moyang
yang tercampur aspal dan kottu
lewat pandangan
yang menggunting kaos

Toko-toko oleh-oleh itu milik bule-bule
untuk membeli kita butuh password:
“Please sir, we’re from poor countries.”
Penderitaan membentuk serat optik
menghubungkan manusia
yang memakai sari
dengan daun-daun yang gugur dari bahunya
yang memakai sarung
dengan lumbung-lumbung yang disemen
12 years a slave and beyond
Kita pun segera sadar bau kota ini
membawa kita pergi jauh lebih jauh
dari tuk-tuk, bus, ataupun taksi
dan bau parfummu
tercium sepanjang Februari



translated by Daniel Owen

“Sometimes I feel sorry for straight people,”
you say before we split up on Galle Road
and go purchase our yearning with a Mastercard
that falls to pieces as soon as it’s swiped

Every night after class
we dance and spit in different clubs
post-colonialism doesn't need sleep to be digested
because before we were born
the spirits had already whispered to us
who our enemies are
the whole city reminds us too
through the sidewalk's humidity
of our ancestors' sweat
mixed with asphalt and kottu
through the stares
that cut up our t-shirts

the souvenir stalls belong to white people
to buy stuff we need a password:
“Please sir, we're from poor countries.”
Suffering shapes optical fibers
that connect people
who wear saris
with leaves that fall from their shoulders
who wear sarongs
with cemented storehouses
12 years a slave and beyond
We too soon realize the smell of this city
takes us further away, further
than even the tuk-tuks, the buses, the taxis
and I can smell your perfume
all through February

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Text of the poem:

beli bawang sepulang kantor
cuci piring yang menumpuk di wastafel
bangun pagi besok kondangan rijal di bogor
hindari deep fried stuff
makan sayuran di tiap waktu makan
jangan mengumpat di area kantor
cuci tangan begitu sampai tujuan
merokok dua kali sehari saja
buka kalender ulang tahun
pasang weker lebih pagi
berolahraga pakai app workout trainer
bilang terima kasih sama supir taksi
absen ke resepsionis
buang air besar
baca sepotong-dua potong cinta itu luka
buka beaver project kapan-kapan
potong rambut di andi
bawa pulang payung dari danicong
cuci kaos kaki
masak oatmeal sebelum tidur
periksa persediaan pisang dan apel
beli krim masam untuk bikin kue coklat
periksa harga sofa
bayar listrik dan pam tanggal 10
bayar bowo tanggal 20
transfer pulsa setelah tagihan datang lewat sms
mengurangi krim dan gula
menyimpan bon makan malam
beli bon di toko buku
keringkan dudukan wc setelah dipakai
periksa job request yang belum selesai
membereskan tempat tidur
jangan terlalu tegang
buang sampah di akhir pekan
antar-jemput laundry di akhir pekan
ganti handuk dua minggu sekali
sholat isya
menyiapkan uang kecil untuk ngangkot besok
duduk dan berdiri tegak
ingatkan suami minum air
siram kaktus
matikan lampu kecil saat sinar matahari sudah terlihat
angkat jemuran
cuci kancut kutang
salin account statement dari bca di awal bulan
transfer cicilan rumah ke btn
ganti seprei sebulan sekali
berpikir dari yang paling spesifik
sampaikan dari garis besarnya dulu
jalan ke pintu ketika lewat perempatan pancoran
habis titik dua spasi buat visa
huruf kecil semua kalo JB
tak ada titik di dalam pointer
tak ada

#262 — Fall 2020