July 29, 2008

Saint Rosa of Indonesian Poetry

Dorothea Rosa Herliany: 'Saint Rosa' of Indonesian poetry

The Jakarta Post, Sunday, December 17, 2006

Harry Aveling, Contributor, Jakarta

Dorothea Rosa Herliany may not be a saint, but she is one of Indonesia's most praised poets, both at home and abroad.

Last month, she received the prestigious 2006 Khatulistiwa Literary Award for Poetry. The award acknowledges her latest book Santa Rosa/Saint Rosa, first published in 2005.

The bilingual volume contains Rosa's latest poetry in Bahasa Indonesia with English translations. There is a preface by senior Indonesian woman poet Toety Heraty, and an afterword by the late Dami Toda, both with English translations as well.

Canadian artist Ken Pattern, a long-time Jakarta resident, provided the stunning lithography that illustrated the first printing.

The poetry was written between 2002 and 2004 in places as diverse as Japan, Europe, America and Australia.

As Toda says: "Various languages and panoramas change shape in their itinerary through the ear and the eye. But poetry does not change its map or time when it sits enthroned in the mind."

Their subject matter includes universal religious themes, human relationships, gender equality, social norms and the nature of history; the writing reveals a struggle to understand human experience in all its reality -- not as an ideal but as a fact that reveals profound suffering and hurt, without, apparently, any hope of redemption.

Leading Australian poet Judith Rodriguez has described Saint Rosa as an "exceptional" volume. These are, she said, "texts of exceptional difficulty and exceptional interest". Rodriguez describes the poems as "highly colored, morbid, even shocking" and significant for their "metaphorical tours de force and paradoxical glories of unwilling illuminations".

In Rodriguez' opinion, Saint Rosa "confirms the importance of this notable poet" and is "a notable addition to world poetry".

Rosa's place in world poetry will become more obvious in 2007 with the publication of her previous book Kill the Radio: Sebuah Radio Kumatikan (2001) by Arc Publications in England.

In a new preface to Kill the Radio, British poet Linda France writes: "The energy and violence expressed in the title of the collection runs through the work like a ruptured vein, fragile and vulnerable but necessary for survival."

The destructiveness and chaos of the outside world broadcast on the radio summons a reaction of echoing violence, filtered through irony. Many of the poems use this mirroring effect, the consciousness of the individual poem reflecting back what it sees and experiences.

The "Self" contained in the poems is ill at ease, often "trapped", "always hurrying ... searching and never finding".

Underneath this troubled surface there is so much tenderness and openness, in shocking contrast to the "Other", represented by the world of politics and war, that the speaker of the poems is aware she is in danger of annihilation.

Saint Rosa and Kill the Radio are both currently being reprinted in new formats by the original publisher, IndonesiaTera, and is expected to be available in bookshops shortly.

They are essential reading for those who love Indonesian literature, and for all who want to understand this country better.

The writer is a scholar and translator of Indonesian literature, including the poetry of Dorothea Rosa Herliany. In 2006, he served as Visiting Professor of Translation Studies at the University of Indonesia.