Gratiagusti Chananya Rompas (Anya) is the co-founder of a poet community, Komunitas Bunga Matahari (Sunflower Community). Her poems had been published in Kompas daily, Spice! magazine, and the anthology “Bisikan Kata Teriakan Kota” by Jakarta Arts Council, and “Dian Sastro for President! #2 Reloaded” by Yogyakarta Cultural Academy. She graduated from the University of Indonesia majoring in English Literature and got her Master’s Degree in The Gothic Imagination from the University of Stirling, Scotland. Her anthology, Kota Ini Kembang Api (This City Is Fireworks) is republished by Gramedia Pustaka Utama in 2016.
Why city—and why fireworks?
Anya: I was born and have lived almost all my life in Jakarta. It is a city where I have felt a broad spectrum of emotions: from hurt to joy, sorrow to enthusiasm, rage to being loved, losing hope to believing in simple things. I think a person is more or less molded not only by their experiences but also where he or she spends most of their time. This helps create one’s reality and, in my case, it is an important ingredient in my poetry.
I am always drawn to lights, any kind of, since I can remember. Study lamp, street lights, fairy lights around a Christmas tree, the light coming from behind the curtain of a window, even the light coming out of a laptop or computer screen. However, I also realize that if there is light, there must be darkness.
So I feel it is just natural for me to use fireworks as a representation of the coming and going of light and dark, which then become an experimental tool to explore a city’s inhabitants. You may not find many references to fireworks though in this collection. The phrase “Kota Ini Kembang Api” is not even a title of a poem, instead, it is taken from a line in an untitled poem. To me, the swift changing from darkness to brightness that fireworks cause serves as a symbol and metaphor. That is why I chose it as the collection’s title.
And when I wrote the other poems, I kept in mind to associate how swift the day lapses with the contrast and irony between the city lights and its shadowy crevices to describe whatever emotion or event I wanted to talk about. When the collection was finally finished, I realized that my days went by more like a spiral than the literally linear concept.
Why poetry? Why not novels, or short stories?
Anya: When I was still in elementary school, I wrote short stories in one of my AA books so it did not attract the attention of my teacher, and distributed it around my class so my friends could read whatever I had written in it. And all my life I have always enjoyed reading novels or short story collections. One of my not many attempts at writing a short story even made its way to a collection published by the Jakarta Arts Council many years ago.
But when I started writing poetry (for an assignment when I was in junior high) I realized poetry is a format that fitted like a glove for me to express myself. No matter how long or short a poem is, every single word has to be significant. Not that novels or short stories do not have this trait. It is just poetry that fits how my mind works. Jagged, fleeting, tumultuous. I feel there are so many ways for me to express them through poetry compared to other forms.
I guess I just have to live with the fact that I am not an all-rounder writer.
Can anyone write poetry? Can anyone be a poet?
Anya: As a co-founder of Komunitas BungaMatahari (better known as BuMa), a poetry community that has lived by its motto “Semua Bisa Berpuisi” (or, roughly translated, “Poetry for All”), I absolutely believe that anyone can enjoy, respect, understand, read and, of course, write poetry. I have seen this happen many times with my own eyes through various activities that BuMa organized or was part of. Many people from many walks of life were so keen on the idea of poetry. And this proved the popular belief that poetry was a difficult art form was not entirely correct.
I do believe, though, that if one aspires to make poetry his or her art, one should understand that poetry is a discipline with a long history. So it is imperative that one educates oneself at least about other poets and what they have done as well as why they did what they did. This will help one to find one’s voice and what one wants to say through one’s art.
And if one wants to write, one better reads too.
Reading is good not only to widen one’s knowledge but also to sharpen one’s analytical skills. Any writer should have this, I think, so he or she can give a better judgment about his or her own works before anyone else does. This, in turn, will make him or her more critical to any form of art he or she is consuming.
I am sorry if I sound too patronizing. But I believe one has to respect one’s art as well as other people’s. And then all you have to do is add a little bit of fun and some love to your poetic journey.
How should one read poetry?
Anya: When I was in university, my poetry lecturer said that poetry was meant to make a poet’s ideas or emotions concrete, not to make it unclear for the readers. But sometimes poets like to play too, break some rules, adding purposeful puzzles into their works. Just like writing, reading is a skill to be learned. So you can spot those “mischiefs” and decide for yourself whether they add meaning to the poet’s works or otherwise.
I believe in successful and unsuccessful poems. Again, to decide which one a poem is, you need your analytical and critical skills. Learning these skills will depend on, amongst others, what kind of literary diet you are consuming and your view of life.
I notice many people choose to see poetry as only a pile of emotions that came to a poet almost magically. Well, it is true that one of the first signs that a poem might—underline might—be successful is how it touches and connects with its readers. True but debatable. And we have not even talked about taste and its politics!
However, the answer to this entire conundrum is quite simple: read, read, and read.
What’s going on inside of you before, during, and after poetry is born?
Anya: Poetry is my way to understand my head and heart and all the stuff that is in them. Oftentimes I feel like something is wrong and/or confusing and/or unrecognizable going on and I cannot stop it. On a good day, lines come across my mind and I can unleash them just by opening my laptop and typing them. On a bad day, I cannot write a single thing. On an okay day, I can write a few lines but then nothing. A poem in “Kota Ini Kembang Api” took me four years to finish.
When I am writing, I focus on the stuff I said above. It is like watching your laundry spinning in your washing machine and then grabbing that one shirt you have been concentrating on (impossible in real life, I know). I also pick on associations that appear—like memories, visuals, voices, smells—and try to incorporate them in my writing. However, this happens more organically than it sounds.
After finishing the first draft of a poem, I will give it a once-over so I can trim unnecessary words, or change them, fix illogical lines, etc. I will only stop when I feel I cannot mess around with it anymore. It will also be the moment when I can begin to understand what kind of shirt I have fished, its fabric, stitching, size, and fit. In other words, this is the moment of truth: have I used all the right literary tools and techniques and make them work or not.
Can you tell us more about the creation process behind the lines of Kota Ini Kembang Api?
Anya: All the poems in “Kota Ini Kembang Api” have been arranged in a certain order so that readers can read them as a book-long story. Yet, readers can also enjoy them individually as well as start or end at any page of the book and hopefully still find them enjoyable.
So, for me, each of them serves its own purpose. Like a string of pearls that I can claim as my necklace.