Notes after Watching HBO in a Hotel Room


Debra Yatim is known as an activist and feminist as well as well as poet – the ‘fairy godmother’ of Indonesian feminist poetry, as our bridge translator Khairani Barokka explained. We had a brilliant session looking at this funny, fiery poem. So many of the lines are so arresting we decided we should make T-Shirts out of them (‘Melted in all the hatred of existing’ a particularly catchy phrase). There’s definitely some irony in the melodramatics of the speaker, who seems to have been driven to suicidal longings by an (unspecified) show on HBO, and diving into the horizon may sound profound but the Hotel Luwansa where the poem was written apparently has an infinity pool. On the other hand though there is genuine despair here – at the capitalist system; at the ways race and gender are represented in culture. There is an uneasiness about power dynamics – the hotel’s service and the ‘service as self’ the speaker is expected to provide.

There are lots of lines here that caused debate – did the weather have tusks, teeth or cloves? How could we recreate the slightly ‘high’ formal tone of the Indonesian in the second verse? (we went for ‘pray sit’ and ‘proffers’). What are the dead materials? Is it the body? Clothes? A shroud? (Admission: we didn’t decide). It was an absolute pleasure though to think about such a witty, nuanced writer for two hours, and this poem is definitely a frontrunner in the best-title competition this year.

- Clare Pollard, Poet-facilitator