My Jakarta: Petrus Adi Wibowo, Street Poet
Enjoying an afternoon breeze in a park like Taman Suropati is a low-cost luxury, with big trees offering shade as you admire a fountain, a Rp 3,000 coffee in easy reach. You may be serenaded by a musician or approached by a street poet who offers to read you some of his work. Like this one, titled ‘Cinta 90 Percent’ (‘90 Percent Love’):
‘Apabila kau mencintai seseorang, cintailah ia 90 percent saja, Karena bila kelak tidak berjalan lancar,Kamu masih mempunyai 10 percent tersebut untuk bangkit dan membangun kembali cintamu dengan kekasih yang baru.’
(‘When you love someone, love the person for only 90 percent, For when things don’t work out,you still have the remaining 10 percent to get back on your feet and love another lover.’)
That’s a fraction of a work by Petrus Adi Wibowo, a 48-year-old street poet who moves from park to park in Jakarta, offering to recite a poem selected from the hundreds he has written.
How often do you come here to Menteng and read poems?
Taman Suropati [in Central Jakarta] is one of my performing spots, so you’ll almost always see me here. If I’m not here, I’ll be in Ayodya Park in Barito [in South Jakarta] or Kota Tua [in North Jakarta] or around the beach. The beach here isn’t a good spot though; it’s only busy on weekends.
Do you carefully select the people you’re going to approach and read your poem to?
Not really. I pretty much approach everyone in the area and ask their permission for me to read them my poems. Some of them even give me the ‘sorry-we-don’t-want-you’ gesture before I’ve even said anything. They must think that I’m trying to sell them something, or I’m some beggar asking for some change. But then I explain that I just want to read a poem and that it’s OK if they don’t want to pay. Some take interest and request the kind of poem they want to hear.
What sort of topics are in demand?
Love. I think because it’s a universal language of all mankind. Other popular topics are social issues, like corruption.
How many poems can you read in a day’s work?
I can read about 500 poems a day [laughs].
Then how many poems do you have in those books you’re carrying?
Well, it’s more or less about 60 poems in each book, and I have two. So probably around 120 poems. But there are still a lot more scattered somewhere here in my rucksack. Aha, like this one, titled ‘Senja di Benteng Vredeburg’ [‘Dusk at Fort Vredeburg’]. I wrote this in 2008 on a separate piece of paper and now it’s all worn out and looks like crap [laughs].
Do you also read poems on buses?
No, I don’t find it comfortable. I prefer parks and beaches because of the serene atmosphere. People are more relaxed and I think that is the kind of mood you have to be in to enjoy poetry.
When did you start being a street poet?
Oh, quite long time ago. Around 2003, if I’m not mistaken. I’m from Solo, so that’s where I started. Then I traveled to Yogya, Jakarta and even Kalimantan. I’m still going back and forth to those cities, particularly Solo and Yogya. Much of my inspiration comes from places and people I meet along the way, and I find it best to express them in the form of poems. I also do monologues.
What was the most unexpected reaction you ever received from your audience?
I remember one time I read a poem for a woman here in Taman Suropati. She cried after listening, but she thanked me. She then took me out for lunch and told me she cried because back in her youth she had had unprotected sex and had several abortions. Now she’s married and settled down with a man who happens to be rich, only to find out that she can no longer carry a baby.
After our lunch she gave me two pieces of new clothes and an envelope. Guess what was in it? Rp 3.5 million [$370] in cash. I was completely astounded and grateful. I never saw her at Taman Suropati again.
Wow — what was the poem about?
The title was ‘Kasih Melampaui Batas’ (‘Love Beyond Borders’). It’s a true story that I saw with my own eyes when I was in Central Kalimantan. It’s about a woman who breast-fed piglets after they lost their mother. I felt like I saw the true beauty of women, with their maternal instincts and unconditional love. The woman listening said the poem felt like a slap, and she regretted what she had done, those abortions.
What is the message that you try to send to people, and to the universe, perhaps?
That we all should preserve love. And I hope life can have a movie-like ending, where the villains get caught and pay for what they’ve done.
Petrus Adi was talking to Tiara Ayuwardani.