Wombwell Rainbow Book Interviews: “Ultimatum Orangutan” by Khairani Barokka

Ultimatum Orangutan Cover Final

Book cover shows a dark purple background with two asymmetrical gold stripes running down the left and right sides of the frame, and a diagonal white rectangle with the words ‘ULTIMATUM ORANGUTAN’ and ‘KHAIRANI BAROKKA’ on it, in black text, separated by a small, purple stripe. The image shows a brown hand, upright with palm out, throwing purple and white energy attacks at a black-and-white bulldozer. Behind them is a purple-tinted image of Tanah Datar, West Sumatra, Indonesia.

Khairani Barokka 

is a writer and artist from Jakarta, now based in London. Her work has been presented in over 15 countries. She is currently Associate Artist at the National Centre for Writing and Research Fellow at UAL’s Decolonising Arts Institute. Okka’s books include Indigenous Species (Tilted Axis; Vietnamese translation, AJAR Press) and Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back (as co-editor; Nine Arches Press), and debut collection Rope (Nine Arches Press).

His website is http://www.khairanibarokka.com.

The Interview

1. When and why did you start writing poetry?

I began reciting rhymes as a toddler, and that’s what I count as the beginning. I’ve always adored reading books and, as many children are, was exposed to lots of rhyming and poetry around me. And continued to follow that thread, with stops and starts.

2. Who introduced you to poetry?

One of the first sounds I ever heard was my father reciting azan (the call to prayer) in my ear as a newborn in the hospital, per Islamic tradition. And I think that did something. As well as being surrounded by songs and sayings from Minang and Javanese traditions, and aforementioned art made for children.

3. How aware are and were you of the dominating presence of older poets traditional and contemporary?

I think certainly in both Indonesian and English we’re made aware of a certain canon, consisting of dead or older poets, in formal education. But then you learn that there are so many different canons, and many more overlooked older poets, especially women and non-binary, D/deaf and/or disabled, from stolen-from communities, than you can ever possibly learn the names of. Make your own canon, read from elders and young poets alike.

4. What is your daily writing routine?

Surviving with the day-to-day while subconsciously working things out, until a precious quiet moment is found, not always daily, that plunges you into writing.

5. What subjects motivate you to write?

Recognising each other as human. Self- and community preservation. Anticolonialism. Survival and catharsis. All synonyms of each other. The wretched things in life, the joyful.

6. What is your work ethic?

 Remembering to listen to my body, while doing as much as I can. It’s a constant battle!

7. How do the writers you read when you were young influence your work today?

 In so many ways I’m sure I’m unconscious of.

8. Whom of today’s writers do you admire the most and why?

It’s difficult to make lists! Those that write with the urgency of remembrance and beauty and action.

9. Why do you write, as opposed to doing anything else?

 Because it’s aliveness, and a form of reaching out to other humans. I want to write every book I possibly can in my time here, which I hope is as kind a time as possible, and more than enough time.

10. What would you say to someone who asked you “How do you become a writer?”

 Read and write! Or sign or sing.

11.Tell me about the writing projects you have on at the moment.

Commissioned essays, and chipping away at poetry, fiction, mixed genre.

12. How did you decide on the order of the poems in the book?

Through many, many reshuffles! A really clarifying moment came when a mentor suggested ‘Terjaga’, originally one long poem, be divided into parts. That then allowed me to think of the book as happening in movements, so to speak.

12.1. What do you mean by “movements”?

Oh, I meant movements as in music. 🙂

13. When you split “Terjaga” into two parts why was it a “Clarifying moment”?

It was a clarifying moment for me to split ‘Terjaga’ into four parts, because then it gave me a sense of the book having four Terjaga interludes, and how I could organise poem order around those.

14. How important is form in your writing?

Form is so important to poetry. One thing I’ve been grateful for is the encouragement from Jane Commane and others in my poetry-making journey to experiment in that regard. How a poem is read, how it’s remembered, hinges on its shape, contours, rules, flow. Form comprises all of that, and is the body of a poem, if you will.

15. Why is musical form so important in the organisation of your poems?

This is a really interesting question; I think music influences me subconsciously quite a bit, and I like thinking of poetry books as albums, in a way–with tone and flow and musicality.

16. Having read the book what do you hope the reader will leave with?

I’d love to hear what each reader takes from my books in their own words, so I hesitate to be too prescriptive. However, I do hope for a strengthening of resolve, emotion and action in the face of the urgencies in the book.

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