Joko Pinurbo: The emergence of the tweeting poet

Ika Krismantari
The Jakarta Post | Wed, October 10 2012

This year marks the return of Joko Pinurbo to the country’s literature world. After five years in hiatus, the poet is back with two books. The first is Tahilalat (Mole), which was published in September and the second, whose title has not been decided yet,  is still being prepared for release by the end of this month.

The different thing about the new books is his decision to experiment with social media in his creative process.

Not only does he work with blogs to repost some of his past and current work, the 50-year-old has also challenged himself to write poems in 140 characters on Twitter. For that purpose, Joko says he has been an active Twitter user since January this year.

Using the account name @jokopinurbo, the poet has tweeted short poetry to his more than 8,000 followers. And due to the huge number of retweets received every time a new poem is posted, a major publisher will publish this collection of mini poems in the upcoming book.

The poet explained in a recent interview with The Jakarta Post that he found writing on Twitter both challenging and exciting at the same time. He said that it was not easy to write short poems in Indonesian when the nature of the language was very complex.

“I have to squeeze words so they can be really efficient and concise. For me, that is a very interesting challenge that I have never encountered before,” he said.

Apart from proving that he is capable of answering the challenge, the book, Joko adds, also aims to disprove views that undermine internet literature.

“I want to show that if we want to use these media seriously we can also produce serious work,” he remarked.

From his statement, Joko has shown that he is still a rebellious poet at heart, even though now he plays on a different stage.

In the old days, the poet was known for his bravery against conventional literary norms. Instead of choosing beautiful lyrics and words, the award-winning poet prefers simple and direct terms to convey his messages. His signature style has earned him numerous awards including the prestigious Khatulistiwa Award in 2005.

Now, his latest work tries to challenge critics who deride literature published in social media.

Apart from his consistent rebellious stance, Joko also remains the artist who constantly likes to challenge himself in making improvements to his work. This time, he tests his ability to produce poetry with limited words. His previous challenge was to make quotidian objects the center of his poetry. His poetry mentions things like pants, dolls, mobile phones and bathrooms and the other trivia of everyday life. During the interview, he explained that his purpose in the use of these everyday items in his poetry was to arouse people’s consciousness of their surroundings.

“Many people consider that daily things are trivial, therefore I want to offer these insignificant things from a different perspective so people can question things in their lives,” he said.

According to Joko, his biggest achievement so far was when he was able to make divine characters in the Bible more human through his poetry. His most famous poem and also his favorite Celana Ibu (Pants from Mother) is an example of how he deconstructs Jesus’ resurrection through daily conversation between mother and son to make the story more connected to people.

Another thing that has not changed for Joko is the seriousness of his work. Even though he now works through Twitter, it doesn’t reduce the quality and effort he puts into his work.

“It still takes a long process before I can tweet something. I usually write the draft on the computer. If it is not done I will not post it. I can not be spontaneous. I write all my poetry seriously,” he said.

Born in Sukabumi, West Java on May 11, 1962, Joko has developed his penchant for poetry since he was in junior high school.

He said he wrote his first poem on the school bulletin. However, it was not until he enrolled in university that he took poetry seriously. In the end even though he tried to do other things, including teaching for his alma mater, poetry seems to be his calling.

“I feel like my real world is in literature,” he said.

Choosing a life as a poet, he adds, requires him to write with high discipline. To be productive, Joko explains, he always spends time in the morning and the night before the computer although occasionally, he also writes while watching a football match on television.

Looking at Joko’s latest decision to use social media in his creative process it seems to be another
strategy for the poet to remain relevant.

“This is an inevitable fact. This is what the current generation deals with. I try to adjust to this change while still sticking to my principle of maintaining the quality of my work,” he explains.

After declaring himself as the tweeting poet, now Joko seems to be ready for new challenges.

His next plan is to travel around Indonesia and write poetry that reflects local culture. However, given the big budget involved in the project, he is still waiting for sponsors.

His short-term target is to write prose. For poets, writing prose can be really challenging. Joko says the ambition to write a novel has haunted him for years.

Finally, the long-awaited moment has arrived as he declares that he plans to publish a compilation of short stories next year.

“I want to write a novel but I still don’t know. I should be able to write short stories because I am used to writing narrative poetry, but I will try,” he said.

Let’s see if the master is capable of meeting the challenge this time.***