Excerpt: Introduction to the interviews, by Freeman Ng

Excerpt: Introduction to the interviews, by Freeman Ng

It was my great privilege to spend about thirty Saturday afternoons, in a 14 month period from November 2011 through January 2013, sitting with Peter Dale Scott in his Berkeley home, in the two big chairs in his living room with the painting by his mother (Canadian abstract artist Marian Dale Scott) behind them, and my low-end camcorders and a couple of thrift store table lamps for extra lighting in front of us, asking him questions about Coming to Jakarta, his book length poem combining autobiography with an exposé of the 1965 Indonesian massacre.

Apart from our purpose – to bring more readers to the book and to record his own thoughts about it for posterity – I valued these sessions simply for the pleasure of Peter’s company. I first met him when I was an English major at Berkeley, and though I pretty much sleepwalked through college, making almost no friends, engaging in no extracurricular activities, and doing just enough to pass, I saw that he was different from my other professors – more willing to engage with his students on equal terms, and more genuinely interested in our lives – and (with an assist from the one lifelong friend I did make in college, a fellow member of a poetry writing class I took from Peter) stayed in touch with him after I graduated, and began looking for his published poetry.

The first thing I discovered in my search was that he wrote prose books about politics as well – an aspect of his life we students had had no knowledge of – and then I discovered Coming to Jakarta.

What makes Coming to Jakarta so unique and so essential is not just its application of poetry to politics, but its merging of the political with the personal. The poet does not just catalogue the details of the world order that produced the massacre, but explores his own complicity in it. And he doesn’t limit his investigations to that one instance of human cruelty, but pursues the theme across years and cultures and even into his own childhood, to his own terrors and acts of terrorism.

I don’t know if the noble experiment of human civilization will ultimately succeed, but I suspect that more will be needed for survival than the many progressive voices that correctly decry the sins of our society, but from a self-righteous distance that ignores the “deluge of emotion / we all carry within us.” We need not just a corrected politics, but reintegrated desires. Not just an exposé of the evil in this world, but a willingness to admit our part in it and its part in us. Not just the painstaking connecting of historical dots that Peter undertakes in all his political writing, but his plunge, in Coming to Jakarta, beneath the surface sheen of our outward acts, to examine the “green furtive shadows” of our selves.

— from Poetry And Terror: Politics and Poetics in Coming To Jakarta, by Peter Dale Scott and Freeman Ng, Lexington Books, all rights reserved.