Legendary Poet Sapardi Djoko Damono Turns Notebook Scribbles Into Coffee Table Book

Sapardi Djoko Damono, left, and Indah Tjahjawulan, center, at the launch of 'Manuskrip Sajak Sapardi Djoko Damono' ('Poetry Manuscripts of Sapardi Djoko Damono') on Thursday (07/09) during the Indonesia International Book Fair (IIBF) at Jakarta Convention Center in Senayan, Central Jakarta. (JG Photo/Dhania Sarahtika)

By : Dhania Sarahtika | on 1:58 PM September 12, 2017
Category : Life & Style, Arts & Culture

Jakarta. If you ever wonder how legendary poet Sapardi Djoko Damono wrote his classic love poems — from which many Indonesians learn poetry for the first time — wonder no more, the sprightly 77-year-old has just turned a collection of his rough drafts, manuscripts and notebook scribbles into a beautifully designed coffee table book.

"Manuskrip Sajak Sapardi Djoko Damono" ("Poetry Manuscripts of Sapardi Djoko Damono") collected around 200 original hand-scribbled and typewritten versions of Sapardi’s poems written between 1958 and the 1970s. It had a limited release on Thursday (07/09) during the Indonesia International Book Fair (IIBF) at Jakarta Convention Center in Senayan, Central Jakarta.

Graphic designer Indah Tjahjawulan, the book’s author and designer, decided to compile Sapardi’s "scribbles" after the poet himself stumbled upon his old notebooks and sent a photograph of them to Indah through WhatsApp.

"It's important to know these manuscripts since the published poems had gone through a lot of changes. These are the original versions," Indah said.

Interestingly, the book also features many drafts of Sapardi's poems that have never been published.

"A lot of them have never been published. I wrote and sent them [to magazines or newspapers]. If they didn’t get published, I still kept them," Sapardi said.

Sapardi's Juvenilia

The book became a veritable collection of Sapardi’s juvenilia, featuring poems he had written in high school and university. He wrote his first poem in 1957, a year before the start of the period covered in this book, but he could not find his notebook from that year.

The poet wrote all his drafts by hand, and then he would go to his father’s office to copy them on his typewriter because magazines and newspapers required submissions to be typed up.

Later on in the 1970s, Sapardi got his own typewriter and eventually a computer, so there were fewer handwritten drafts from that era. The poet did not mind it, admitting that he loves the digital age since his penmanship had always left a lot to be desired.

"It’s difficult to read my writings, even for me, since a lot of them used the old Indonesian spelling," Sapardi said.

Indah said she took a long time thinking about not just the design, or how to put all the scattered manuscripts together, but also reading them and trying to interpret the poems.

Sapardi himself recommended the book should be enjoyed as a collage of images.

The poet said sometimes he felt a tad ashamed because most of his early works, just like most teen poetry, revolved around the theme of love. He called these early works "a teenager’s sappy writing."

"Essentially the book is a collection of pictures. The poems are a teenager’s sappy writing on love. You don’t have to read them, but they can be enjoyed as pictures," said the poet, whose love poems "Hujan Bulan Juni" ("Rain in June") and "Aku Ingin" ("I Want") are often quoted on everything from wedding invitations to Instagram captions because of their powerful emotions.

Nevertheless, reading these early works of Sapardi does give insights to his development as a poet. The poems are arranged chronologically, so one could see Sapardi's style transformations.

In his early days, the poet's love for the sonnet is obvious. In 1960, he wrote mostly in quatrains but also started to venture into free verse. He started experimenting with more free verse in 1963.

Sapardi said by 1967 he had found his own style. The next year, his first poetry collection, the classic "Duka-Mu Abadi" ("Your Grief is Eternal") was published.

The book of manuscripts does not contain as many poem drafts from the 1970s, mostly just typewritten poems that were later published in 1983 as another canonical collection, "Perahu Kertas" ("Paper Boat").


Prior to the launch of this book, the original poem drafts and scribbles were showcased at Galeri Rumata in Makassar, South Sulawesi, in May this year as part of the Makassar International Writers Festival.

Indah managed to bring the manuscripts to life in the exhibition by not only scanning and printing them, but also by rewriting some of them in chalk on a blackboard.

Indah said visitors at the exhibition were impressed that seeing all the scribbles and notebook drafts together was like seeing Sapardi in the flesh, or being given a window into his soul.

She plans to hold another exhibition later this year but the site is still undecided.

"Manuskrip Sajak Sapardi Djoko Damono, published by Gramedia Pustaka Utama, will be available in bookstores in November. Recommended retail price for the 226-page book will be Rp 360,000 ($27).

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