Saturday, June 30, 2007

On Words: The Boy Poet Abdurahman Faiz

On Words

The Boy Poet Abdurahman Faiz


Friday, 15 June, 2007, 12:52 PM Local Time

JAKARTA –Poet Abdurahman Faiz will be busy this summer. His sixth book, Nadya, Kisah Dari Negeri Yang Menggigil (Nadya, Stories from a Shivering Nation), comes out in July.

Once the book is released, he will travel about Jakarta the rest of the month, meeting his fans and signing their purchases. Faiz has got just a few weeks to promote this latest work, for in August he begins the sixth grade.

To read a Faiz collection is to walk Jakarta’s streets. It is to ponder headlines, to question, to belong. Family, beggars, God, war, faith, disaster, and hope are just a sampling of the topics living within his pages. His sixth book deals with Indonesian society and politics and is, according to the author, infused with optimism.

Faiz says he is drawn to poetry because poems are short, meaningful and can often be spontaneously finished at one go. Some he completes within minutes, while his more stubborn pieces can demand a month or two. His Javanese father, Tomi, explains in English, “He doesn’t have a finishing target, so he just writes when he has ideas.”

The poet says he does not worry about writer’s block. When the affliction hits him, Faiz simply goes and plays, confident that the ideas will return. They always do.

He says that he finds ideas everywhere, from all that he sees and all that he hears. He is primarily driven to the keyboard by social problems that he witnesses or reads or hears about. When an idea comes, he records it in his cell phone for later retrieval.

Faiz writes with a clear vision. He knows what needs to be said and will not be satisfied until his message is lucid and strong. He recalls that he has had to fight his editors in order to maintain the integrity and precision of his work. If even a single word is altered, he feels the work is no longer his and does not accept it. His Acehnese mother, Helvi, a university lecturer, says Faiz remembers every word he writes and is tenacious when it comes to protecting each and everyone of them.

On the surface, Faiz is a rather ordinary soon-to-be 12-year-old child. Though smiling and friendly, he is noticeably less-than-comfortable as we talk in his family’s modest living room. He frequently pauses and looks towards the ceiling in search of words. His fingers twist and knot together between his rocking knees. He explains, in Indonesian, that he writes better than he speaks.

When not writing, he is just a boy. He enjoys playing basketball, riding his bike around his Depok neighborhood, reading automobile magazines and books such as Harry Potter and playing computer games.

He spends a lot of time at the computer. Never having liked writing by hand, he took to the keyboard at the age of five. Now he writes poems and updates his blog just about daily. Tomi, a television-news producer, says in English that Faiz is a “completely modern boy.”

Readers of his work come from all walks of life, politicians, fellow-writers, academics and the public at large. President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono considers Faiz’s work to be “very touching.” Political and religious leader Amien Rais calls Faiz “a deeply thoughtful writer,” while former president Megawati Soekarnoputri hopes his work will “inspire and give spirit to future generations.”

Poet Agus R Sarjono says that Faiz’s “worry about social situations is his fresh style.” Professor Riris T. Sarumpaet finds Faiz’s “concern to be pure, simple, transparent, and deeply sensitive.”

One of his poems so clearly demonstrates the need for governmental transparency that it is used by Masyarakat Transparasi Indonesia (the Society for Transparency of Indonesia), in its anti-corruption campaign.

Faiz’s first book, Untuk Bunda dan Dunia (For Mother and Earth), has been reprinted ten times since it came out in 2004. All of his books together have sold around 80,000 copies.

Later in the interview, Faiz relaxes and shows me around the family’s upstairs office. The wall next to the computer is nearly completely covered with writing and poetry awards the he has won and framed clippings from newspapers and magazines that have featured the boy poet.

Faiz says that he wishes there were more young authors in Indonesia. He suggests that children who would like to write keep diaries, play scrabble, read a lot, observe their surroundings and always ask questions. He believes it is vital that writers are sensitive to the surrounding world.

Faiz possesses that sensitivity. He suffers from it. Helvi says that her son is so painfully aware that he used to cry whenever he witnessed or learned of sorrow. Now, he crafts that raw openness into his art and uses it to affect change. He donates half of each royalty check to his two foster brothers in North Jakarta and Aceh’s tsunami victims.

As he shows me his blog, I think to myself that he is fortunate the room still has three bare walls. I get the feeling he is going to need them.

Abdurahman Faiz’s blog is at

(Sidebar, one of two)

Doaku Hari Ini

My Prayer for Today

My Lord

Give me your time

To grow in the road of love

A seedling

In all along the road of my parents

In all along the road of my Indonesia

In all along the road to you


July 2003

(translated by Rafi Hayati and Andrew Greene)

(Sidebar, two of two)

Pengungsi di Negeri Sendiri

Refugee in Their Own Country

No one dances any longer

Between the filthy tents

Over here

Only suffering

Caught in our eye

And our ear

Not even one song

We ever sing anymore

Only teardrops sing

Between hunger, thirst

Changing seasons

Have you noticed this, my brother?

October, 2003

(translated by Rafi Hayati and Andrew Greene)

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