The Literary Controversy Surrounding “Sajak Sikat Gigi” by Yudhistira Ardi Noegraha Moelyana Massardi

In the world of literature, controversies often arise when works push the boundaries of convention or challenge established norms. One such controversy unfolded in Indonesia in the late 1970s surrounding the poem “Sajak Sikat Gigi” by Yudhistira Ardi Noegraha Moelyana Massardi, a talented young writer whose work sparked both admiration and debate among literary circles.

The commotion began when “Sajak Sikat Gigi” was selected as the best poetry anthology for the years 1976–1977 by a jury panel formed by the Jakarta Arts Council (DKJ). The panel, consisting of prominent figures such as Toety Heraty, Dodong Djiwapraja, and Goenawan Mohamad, chose the poem alongside three other winners, including works by renowned poets Sitor Situmorang, Abdul Hadi WM, and Sutardji Calzoum Bachri.

However, the choice of “Sajak Sikat Gigi” as a winner was met with criticism from some quarters, particularly from the other three poets who felt that Yudhis’ work did not meet the standards of excellence expected for such an award. They argued that Yudhis’ poems lacked depth and were merely humorous, using everyday language and themes that they considered to be kitsch.

Abdul Hadi, in particular, expressed his disappointment in Yudhis’ work, stating that the poems failed to demonstrate a clear understanding of poetry and the role of a poet. He critiqued the lack of depth in Yudhis’ poems, despite some of them being notable.

Sitor also joined in the criticism, describing Yudhis’ work as failed parodies of poetry due to the author’s apparent lack of understanding of the essence of poetry. This criticism was significant, given Sitor’s status as a senior poet compared to Yudhis.

Despite the controversy, some prominent figures in the literary world, such as HB Jassin and Goenawan Mohamad, offered positive views of Yudhis’ work. Jassin praised Yudhis’ poems for their innocent and humorous portrayal of society, while Goenawan defended the quality of Yudhis’ work, stating that it was on par with the other winners.

Yudhis’ background added another layer to the controversy. Born into poverty in Subang, West Java, he struggled in his early years, working odd jobs to support himself. His journey to becoming a respected writer and journalist was marked by hardship and perseverance, reflecting the struggles of many young Indonesians at the time.

Despite the criticisms, Yudhis’ work continued to resonate with readers and literary enthusiasts. His unique style, characterized by its humor and simplicity, captured the essence of everyday life in Indonesia, making it relatable to a wide audience.

In conclusion, the controversy surrounding “Sajak Sikat Gigi” highlights the complexities of literary judgment and the subjective nature of artistic appreciation. While some may criticize Yudhis’ work for its simplicity, others see it as a refreshing and insightful commentary on Indonesian society. Regardless of the differing opinions, one thing is certain: Yudhistira Ardi Noegraha Moelyana Massardi’s “Sajak Sikat Gigi” has left a lasting impact on Indonesian literature and continues to be remembered as a work that challenged the boundaries of poetic expression.