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Agam Wispi

The poet Agam Wispi was born in Pangkalan Susu, North Sumatera in 1930. His father led Gezaksa, one of the most well-known theater troupes in Medan prior to World War II. Wispi grew up in this environment and from his youth had a close relationship with the arts. His first poem, Stained Freedom (which unfortunately can no longer be traced) was published in the newspaper Kerakyatan, a Medan daily led by Banda Matin.  Agam later went on to work as a journalist and cultural editor at Kerakyatan.

While still working as a journalist in Medan, Bakrie Siregar introduced Agam to the progressive ideas of the People’s Cultural Organization, the Lembaga Kebudayaan Rakyat or LEKRA. From that time on, Agam’s writing was based upon those ideas. Later, in 1959, he became a formal member and manager at LEKRA.

Agam Wispi believes that his fate has been shaped by poetry. The publication of his first poem in Kerakyatan led to his position as the cultural editor of that newspaper. One of his subsequent poems, a poem about Bakbo Bay, Vietnam, further determined his fate. The poem was translated and published in a Vietnamese literary magazine, which consequently invited him to visit the country.

Over several months, Agam traveled throughout the countryside and had the opportunity to meet Ho Chi Min. It was this trip that finally delivered him to his fate as a political refugee when Indonesia’s political landscape experienced a sudden reversal.   

When the September 30 movement (G30S) splintered, Agam Wispi was in Beijing attending celebrations of the Proclamation of the People’s Republic October 1, 1965. On that day, Agam heard of the bloody incident that had occurred in Jakarta the previous night. As a LEKRA member, Agam had no choice but to remain in Vietnam. Along with other LEKRA members who were attending Asia Africa Writer’s Conference, Agam Wispi was interned for five years in Nanking. His works from this period were compiled as Catatan Nanking.

Agam Wispi works include, among others  “Repolusi”, “Dera dan Deru” (1957), “Demokrasi”,  the poetry compilation Sahabat  (1959), and a one-act drama, “Gerbong”  (1958).  Several of Agam’s poems were collected in the LEKRA works Dinasti 650 Juta  (1961)  and Yang Tak Terbungkamkan  (1961).  Since his exile in 1965, Agam Wispi has published several volumes of poetry, including Exile, Orang-orang yang Dilupakan and Kronologi in Memoriam. The collection Pulang was written when he was allowed to return to Indonesia in 1996.

The tragedy of 1965 separated Agam from his wife and five children, who have continued to live in Jakarta during his exile. Now at over seventy years of age, Agam lives in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, having become a Dutch citizen. Despite carrying a Dutch passport, Agam Wispi confesses that he is still an Indonesian.

Books by Agam Wispi
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