November 18, 2009

The Ulysses of his generation

norbert bugeja

In his new anthology, Bliet, poet Norbert Bugeja wanders along city streets, listening to a chorus of voices. Stanley Borg lays siege on the poet’s walls.

“ Works of art are of an infinite loneliness,” wrote Austrian poet Rilke. And that is exactly the feeling that you get when reading Norbert Bugeja’s new anthology Bliet. A current of yearning flows through Mr Bugeja’s poetry; yearning that has the poet wandering along city streets.

“ All of us are curious about our pasts, especially when our knowledge of them is hampered by loud voices,” says Mr Bugeja.“ For a long while our literature itself served as a discourse of oppression, privileging absolute notions of nationalism and religion. It’s still with us. All those religio et patria apologists on this island – there are many of them around, as recent events have reminded us – are products of this literature that they were force-fed at school.

“ My poetry is obsessed with unearthing those layers of our experience and historical consciousness that the discourses of power in Malta and in our region at large conveniently keep choosing to ignore. My ghosts are very often those selves, what Mario Azzopardi’s poetry had called ‘ my poor downtrodden people’, the muted voices of our own ‘ oppressed dead’, craving a literature that situates them in history and in time. My poetry’s yearning is to respond to their yearnings. My wandering is a relentless quest to excavate and foreground their lives.”

In his critical introduction to ‘Bliet’, Adrian Grima writes that Mr Bugeja’s poetry is alive with a “mischievous energy”. How curious is this energy?

“ I cannot write unless I travel,” Mr Bugeja says. “I’m constantly on the lookout for the next exhilarating experience, the metaphor which is expecting me round the next corner, be it in Tangier, Cordòba, Algiers or Alexandria. The ‘mischievous energy’ comes from there.”

“You do not travel because you’re wealthy – you’re wealthy because you travel. That ‘mischievous energy’ is nothing but the ability to draw assertive images, to associate ideas, to dare to write about the people you meet, unsparingly. You meet a new person, notice the way they twitch their fingers, and there’s a metaphor ripe for you to pick. I look at people’s faces all the time. Good poets never simply read between lines, they also read between lies. Then they couch their loot within a poem – that’s the mischievous energy.

“In ‘Bliet’, words scatter across the page, leaving blank spaces for the reader to fill in. Is this ‘scattering’ a side-effect to the bricolage manner that you employ?” I ask Mr Bugeja.

“It is, because I cannot but think of myself as a bricoleur. This is why the anthology is titled ‘Bliet’ (Cities). How can one ever represent a complete image of a city, or a series of cities, in a single poem or a single book? I can piece together several meaningful experiences I come across in the cities I visit or in those I conjure, but then, I am always only a writer. I also live in a city whose ongoing drama does not really need me as a protagonist, as Malik Solanka discovers to his surprise in Rushdie’s Fury. There are many readers out there who will read my poetry and piece their own images together, just as every city exists because of the many lives who shape it just by inhabiting it.”

With bricolage, the reader gets the feeling that lines from one poem were written separately, and then left to simmer before coming together.

“The poems in ‘Bliet’ are not only eclectic in their range of allusions, but also the sheer diversity of experiences that makes them,” confirms Mr Bugeja. “ A teenager on his way to an opium den in Lebanon could find his way in the same poem as a 100-year-old tailor gazing at the sea in Vittoriosa. The whole venture is serendipitous in the extreme, just as the contemporary Maltese writer’s journey is serendipitous. We do not live in the shade of some overbearing literary tradition that barely leaves us a breathing space. On the contrary, we’re almost embarrassed because so much has not been accomplished in our literature.”

“ We therefore have to work on multiple fronts, tap various sources of reading, of observation, of experience, before we can essentialise the motifs of our poetry. That’s my method. I’m a corsair. I loot indiscriminately, then I try to make sense of that erratically earned wealth on my own. The cut-off point usually comes when I realise that what I have in my hands is a random string of meaningless events, as Orhan Pamuk writes when he talks of life and creation. Once the quest for meaning is clearly frustrated, then I can piece a significant poem together.”

For me, Mr Bugeja is the Ulysses of this generation, ever wandering. Yet he also carries a part of his city with him.

“I’ve lived away from Malta for five years now – it has been an immensely enriching journey,” he says. “ I live amid a buzzing hive of academic activity. I am participating, full-time, in one of the most respected academic communities this side of the Atlantic. What I keep learning from these writers, poets, academics, artists, intellectuals is that these very professions need errance, the state of venturing from one realm of thought to another as the very nerve centre of their being. The age of cloistered productivity and parochial behaviour has long since passed, even if Malta is still attached. We can never underestimate George van den Abbeele’s claim, mainly that if we really want to call existing orders into question, in placing ourselves outside them and establishing ourselves at a ‘critical distance’ from them, we are already thinking of thought as errance, as travel.

“ Both as an academic, as a lecturer and as writer, I think of myself as errant because the distance between one thought and another necessitates a quest,” continues Mr Bugeja. “ The quest of ‘Bliet’ has been that of travelling further afield than Maltese poetry has done over the past half century in my exploration of form, metaphor, imagery, rhythm, style. Whether my writing has succeeded or not, I leave that for the critics to debate.”

Mr Bugeja’s cities are a chorus of voices, an unplanned architecture of smells, tastes, sights. Yet the poet’s roots are firmly rural.

“ It is difficult to speak of a clearcut distinction between country and city, especially now that mass communication keeps collapsing one space-time boundary after another,” he says. “ Some of the multiple voices that people my cities find their origins in my hometown, Siggiewi. A ‘ chorus of voices’ is precisely what Siggiewi is – an expanding geographical area where rumours thrash about wildly, and with gusto. Poets are professional gossips – they listen, embellish, relay. This is what’s left in me of my town, this mastery of the grapevine.”

Mr Bugeja’s voice is very clear in his poetry. Is this a symptom of a “minority” language? For instance, in English prose, the reader gets the feeling that the author is trying to disappear. But with Irish prose, the author is ever present. Is it so with writing in Maltese?

“English literature has for a long time legitimised its existence as a normative one, just as France placed itself as the supreme judge of world literature in the 18th and 19th centuries,” Mr Bugeja answers. “Goethe himself felt German literature was provincial in relation to France. But the epoch of English literature as a puritanical, self-sufficient, dominant construct has long since passed. Think of James Joyce. Think of Derek Walcott, and many others. They did not have the weight of a canon behind them. They wrote under the sign of post-colonialism. What do writers do in that position? They seek wider systems of reception and transmission for their work.

“ It is therefore not only bourgeois cosmopolitan globalism that enters the world stage, but literature as well. We start speaking less of French or English literature and more of a world literature. This is an increasingly diffuse trend among literary systems that want to go beyond their national culture. Reasserting the author’s presence in this day and age is one way for ‘minority’ literatures to ‘ hate the majority properly’.

“That is, to work critically within the majority tradition, to insinuate very assertively those aspects that identify you, into a majority language.

“The English English author may afford to disappear, the Maltese English one may not. At least not for the moment. The imminent step is that: to make one’s own voice eminently, perhaps even aggressively, visible in the other’s language.”

In Mr Bugeja’s poetry, words frequently scatter. Yet the reader gets the feeling that they embrace life in hope.

“Scattering, dissemination, relation – if any hope survives for us in the present, then it must exist in our enthusiastic practice of these acts,” says Mr Bugeja. “Ryszard Kapuscinski, the amazing Polish traveller-reporter, writes that each book is yet another expression of our struggle against time, against the fragility of our memory. Like a shifting sand dune, memory erases itself, disappears, reshapes itself into the present. Words in my poetry scatter in the hope of keeping up with the workings of memory. Sometimes I hope to perpetuate the actuality of the past into the present. Other times, I attempt to keep up with the future, to sketch the present anew before it is yet again reconfigured by some monstrous, powerful discourse. I try to capture the sounds of Malta’s southwestern coast before it is raped by high-rise hotels, before the floodlights get riveted to its beaches. Is this effort all in vain? Perhaps. Well, at least my writing survives.”

November 05, 2009

BLIET – Xbihat mill–isbaħ tar–ruħ urbana

BLIET, l-antoloġija l-ġdida ta' Norbert Bugeja, issa tinsab għall-bejgħ fil-ħwienet tal-kotba ewlenin f'Malta. 

Il-poeżija ta' Norbert Bugeja (1980) tirrappreżenta l-ġenerazzjoni ġdida li qed tikteb il-poeżija bil-Malti fil-bidu tas-seklu wieħed u għoxrin. Norbert jikteb dwar persuni differenti ħafna minn xulxin huma u għaddejjin b'ħajjiethom f'għadd ta' bliet u fl-irħula li jsawru l-Mediterran. Il-poeżija tiegħu taqbad fiha l-faxxinu tal-vjaġġ, it-tiftixa għall-istejjer mhux tas-soltu li jinsabu moħbijin wara l-ħitan ħoxnin, is-sqaqien it-toroq u l-wesgħat ta' l-ispazju urban - sew jekk hija belt antika mehdija fi skietha, kif ukoll jekk hi triq mgħobbija bi ġrajjiet jgħajtu huma u jfittxu l-hena u s-serħan.

Il-proġett Bliet għalhekk jibda mis-silenzji li jsawru l-ibliet, sew dawk li ngħixu fihom ta' kuljum kif ukoll dawk li ngħixu mitt darba aktar fina nfusna. L-ewwel is-skiet perfett, il-ħemda li twaħħxek f'nofs il-pjazza, is-sikta tar-ragħwa li tibqa' tistaqsi hi u tinxef ġo tazza tal-birra f'nofs każin, il-ħarsiet bla kliem li jittawlu mit-twieqi bħal qtates għassiesa għall-avventura li jmiss. Imbagħad toħroġ l-ewwel frażi, eku ta' ġrajja li f'moħħ xi ħadd ingħexet diġà. Imbagħad ftit ftit tintqal kelma oħra, bis-serqa, tnejn, tlieta, erbgħa. Imbagħad tisplodi l-poeżija.

Fl-introduzzjoni estensiva li kiteb ghal Bliet, il-kritiku u poeta Dr Adrian Grima jgħid li 'hemm enerġija mqarba f'dawn it-toroq u l-imkejjen ta' Norbert Bugeja. L-istejjer f'dawn il-poeżiji "tilmaħhom" jiġġerrew bla kwiet fix-xaqq seduċenti bejn il-lingwa stabbilita li qiegħda hemm, kullimkien, tittawwal lejk mingħajr ma tista' taħfinha bħalma taħfen b'għajnejk lil xi ħadd f'kantuniera, u l-lingwa stramba li jikkrea Norbert Bugeja b'intwizzjoni ġenjali li tixhed, fl-istess waqt, emozzjoni qawwija u kalkolu lingwistiku distakkat."

Bliet m'huwa xejn ħlief vjaġġ ma jaqtax f'kull rokna ta' l-ispazji li ngħixu fihom, għajdut miktub fi xbiha wara oħra li, bħal kull għajdut mirqum bis-sengħa, jaqtagħlek nifsek u jistiednek tfittex u dduq u tieħu aktar u aktar. Bugeja ma jħalli xejn bla mimsus. Bliet hi storja miktuba fuq seba' snin, djarju tar-ruħ urbana li se jdawrek mat-turġien, il-fdaljiet, l-isqaqien, il-kumplessi kummerċjali, l-areni, ix-xmajjar u l-bajjiet, is-skiet ta' barra u l-ġenn ta' ġewwa. Mill-Belt sa Cordoba, minn Ruma sa Sevilja u Tanġier, mill-Birgu tal-moħħ sad-Diju Balli tar-ruħ, Bliet hi sensiela ta' ritratti meħuda b'reqqa kbira u maħduma fi xbihat li mhux faċli li tinsihom. Insomma, awtopsja ta' l-intern imħallat, ħiemed u kaotiku tal-belt. 

Bliet. Il-ġrajja tibda hawnhekk. U se tieħdok fejn se teħodha. U se tieħdok fejn ma tridx.

Il-vjaġġ it-tajjeb.

BLIET (CITIES) – Exhilarating images of an urban soul

BLIET - front cover

Norbert Bugeja’s new poetry collection, BLIET has now been published, and is available in Malta's major bookshops. The poems in BLIET capture the ‘here and now’ of urban living in cities and towns in and around the Mediterranean as well as in Malta. Bugeja’s poetry carries with it the fascination with journeying, hot on the trail of those unusual stories hidden behind the thick walls, backstreets, squares and narrow pathways where this country and her shadow-cities carry on with their everyday chores. 

The BLIET project has its origins in those spaces that create cities - the cities we live in every day as well as those we experience a thousand times over within ourselves. First, the haunting silences: the silence of froth fizzing her questions away as she dries up in tumblers across the island’s band clubs. The wordless stares peeping from behind window blinds - cats poised to prance onto the next adventure. The first phrase, echo of dreams already lived in someone else’s mind. Following that, another, two, three words, anxiously whispered in the afternoon shade. And then, poetry erupts. 

BLIET is a relentless autopsy of every nook and cranny we live in, a rumour engraved in image after image. A rumour which - like every skilfully wrought grapevine - lures you in, compels you to help yourself, and take once more, and take again. Bugeja leaves no stone unturned. BLIET is a story in image, rhythm and metaphor, the exhilarating diary of an urban soul that will take you around the steps, ruins, lanes, shopping malls, arenas and rivers that shape the city’s body - the silence without and the chaos within. From Valletta to Cordoba, from Rome to Seville and Tangiers, from the Birgu’s to the Diju Balli’s of the mind’s eye, BLIET is a masterful portrait of our cities’ explosive interiors. 

As poet and critic Maria Grech Ganado has pointed out, ‘Norbert Bugeja's poems remind me of sculpture, with the wind as sculptor. His metaphors are among the strongest I have ever read, his rhythms trance-like. His cities are hewn out of rock but just as simultaneously out of sand. Reading him is like finding a treasure, a rewarding and, to me, a unique experience.’

BLIET comes with an extensive introduction by Dr Adrian Grima, a foremost Maltese literary critic and poet in his own right.

Norbert Bugeja is a leading writer within the new movement of Maltese literature. Metaphor is the brick and mortar of his poetry, a webwork of images and scathing impressions. His poetry has been published in international poetry journals and read during various poetry festivals. In 2005 he published his first collection of verse, 'Stay, Fairy Tale, Stay! Memoirs of a City Cast Adrift' (Midsea Books/Inizjamed, 2005). Norbert Bugeja was awarded his BA (Hons) and MA in English from the University of Malta. As a Commonwealth Doctoral Scholar, he is currently concluding his doctoral thesis and lecturing at the University of Warwick in the UK.

BLIET - the journey begins here. She will take you where you take her. And she’ll take you where you won’t. 

October 23, 2008

Mourid Barghouti Live in London

Palestinian poet Mourid al-Barghouti will be reading his work this Saturday 25th October in the Purcell Room, Southbank Centre in London. Not to be missed! Also, John Berger will be discussing Mahmoud Darwish with David Constantine and Rema Hammami. Another fab event! See ya all there!

mourid barghouti

Street Dreams are Made of This

street dream

I often ask myself, should I harangue some of our would-be ‘culture critics’ for writing like the lot of sour-faced, lemon-sucking presbiterians they are? No, because they can’t know any better. I only wish they had come aboard the XIIIth Biennal of Young Artists from Europe and the Mediterranean held in the city of Bari. It would have got them sick as parrots.

Why so? The latest edition of the famed Biennal flies callously in my face. I enter the Fiera del Levante, the huge fairgrounds hosting this international arts festival. As I meander through hordes of revelling youngsters, I work my way through the events brochure. It surely is not lacking in promising acts, as I confirm later. I am intrigued by the performance of Sinolo Temperament, a Greek musical ensemble pitching their different rhythms against the passage of time. Our very own Esmeralda Galea Camilleri gives an astounding harp performance. Likewise MiStMa, a trio of Bulgarian actors, turn up with an autobiographical act that’s well worth following. Antoine Cassar, Malta’s miglior fabbro teams up with me for Run, Rhythm, Run!, a live poetry duet that gets us a sincere applause. Writers Immanuel Mifsud and Clare Azzopardi, visiting guest and co-ordinator of our trip, help us out in organizing the event. I get a humbling and strange feel that the Maltese contingent is a somewhat worthier protagoniste of this edition, its activities donning a more believable feel than most other scheduled events.

More often than not, the sombre, over-rehearsed act I am following starts fading before my eyes. Inside each pavilion I visit, I am increasingly lured to the incessant hum wafting in from outside. At 7pm every evening, a distant, almost irksome drumbeat wells up as it approaches the centre of the fiera. The mayhem outside the pavilion intensifies. I flip, and leave the hall. In the main piazza, I discover the first tammurriata. Out here, three African djembes, two tarboukahs, castanets and a saxophone are all the rage. The youngsters of Europe and the Med seem to have taken to the streets. Dreadlocked Brits, Germans, pluri-pierced Croat punks, moshing Egyptians, ethnic-clad pugliesi rave to the hypnotic beat: one-two-bom, one-two bom. A group of Baresi break into local song. As the official schedule runs sombre inside the echoing halls, the revelry kicks in outside, streetwise, growing, hungry and most certainly creole. The crowd of young artists sways with abandon. By midnight, two diminutive urchins have fixed a couple of speakers onto a trolley and lead a crowd of hundreds around the streets of the fiera. A DJ comes along and kick-starts a rasta bedlam that shows no signs of abating before daybreak. Hip-clad pavilions watch sneeringly in the background, as many of the scheduled events are wanting in attendance. A young Greek poet yells out his verses in a jam-packed, guitar-equipped corner. I tell myself, our young Europeans are choosing, and it is clearly the streetwise over the sombre. Throughout this Biennale I have noted a beating pulse around my region, and it is all about improvised and blatant crowds of artists breaking out of their solitary cocoons. They seek new ideas, solace and knowledge of the other in a spontaneous collective rather than the hollow hallways of introverted thought. Or so it seems. The Biennal leaves me with a wink and an impish adieu. I make my way to the artists’ after-party on the Adriatic coast. Stunned. And all the wiser.

         A propos of street-wisdom, I truly enjoyed the Strada party adjacent to Valletta’s Strait Street, part of this summer’s Malta Arts Festival. It was organized by the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, who also sponsored the Maltese contingent’s journey to the Biennale. Strada is a sure step in the collective direction, and a means of expressing and enlivening the urban aspect of areas that have been obscured throughout our recent history. It also set me thinking about the streets of Malta’s south that I drove through on my recent visit home. The reason why we call the south by its name is, I believe, becoming ever more apparent. Many areas in and around Cottonera still remind one of post-war Dresden. How about taking on the onerous task of bringing more high-profile events into these godforsaken streets, be they political, touristic, educational or cultural? How about a breath of fresh air into those corners of our island muffled by the louder voices of history? And how about giving up on idiotic ideas such as golf-courses, Ulysses-lodges and new storeys around Lija belvederes, and thinking instead of fixing sites of historical value we have hitherto ignored, and using them more lucratively?

And last, where are the corporate and private endowments and funds devoted to our upcoming artists? Some chaps in this country have garnered their riches by reducing Malta to an island of rags and blinking eyesores. The least they could do now, having sucked the udder flat, is to take the cue from the Rockefellers and Gettys of the world, and give something back to local culture by promoting our upcoming people of talent. It is the very least they could, humbly and wretchedly, start giving back.
A presto.

May 04, 2008

After the last sky, the sprawling outrage. This.

The four murdered Palestinian children 

The battered bodies of four Palestinian children killed by Israeli fire lay at a morgue in Beit Lahia, Gaza. The four children, aged one to five, and their mother were killed during Israeli military operations. (AFP/Al Ahram) 

The intrepid work of late style

I have fond memories of my first meeting with Achille Mizzi at the Grandmaster’s Palace in Valletta early on in 1997. Back then, as a strong team of aspiring writers, we had just created our own literature club at the Junior College, and together with our readings of Neruda, Elouard, Borges, Rimbaud and Garcia Lorca, Achille Mizzi was all the rage. Soiled, threadbare copies of ‘L-Ghar ta’ l-Enimmi’ and ‘Il-Kantiku tad-Demm’, two of his earlier collections, made regular rounds during our meetings. We were budding writers seeking a Maltese poetic model that could hold its very own against any other canon we read into. After the many depressing schooldays eating the crises of the so-called Maltese "Romantics" – a phase I would not wish on any zealous student of literature - we yearned for a robust poetic oeuvre that could restore our faith in a local poetic that did not smack of pseudo. And Achille was our answer.

It was with avid interest, therefore, that I pored over ‘Eklissi Perpetwi’ (Everlasting Eclipse), Achille Mizzi’s latest collection and his seventh volume of verse, with an insightful introduction by Professor Oliver Friggieri. One has to keep one important factor in mind when reading Mizzi within the context of a Maltese literary “tradition”. When Mizzi was producing what eventually became his first book, the 1967 ‘L-Ghar tal-Enimmi’, he was working within a poetic anxiety very different from what Harold Bloom defines as the ‘anxiety of influence’. By that, Bloom meant the contemporary poet’s ordeal of making his own elbow space within a tradition handed over to him as an excess of greatness. Mizzi’s anxiety emerged from a diametrically opposed order: he had to write in the humble and embarrassing knowledge that the local tradition he inherited left him with an overload of work to perform and aeons of literary mileage to cover.

As with his other collections, therefore, ‘Eklissi Perpetwi’ teems with the classical intertexts and motifs of continental poetry that Mizzi drew upon in order to establish a poetic work that could stand on its own – indeed, I believe Mizzi’s work can and should be read in this broader context rather than the restricted tropes of the local tradition. The poem Stamboul is an imagistic work that, in its  combination of sensorial and emotive experience, evokes the experiential state of the eponymous Turkish city itself, that of a historic, and in many ways a contemporary hub of Eastern and Western civilizations. ‘Meta ghad-dell tal-moskea | kahla bl-izmalt | tal-kobalt \ […] wara l-koppli ta gnien is-Sultan, | waqt li hemdu | go ruhi l-ghasafar | u libtu dikment. | Ghafsitni ghommti. | Bhal ghonq li jidjieq hanqitni. |Bhall-Bosfru … | lembut li jaghzel zewg ibhra – | il-bahar tad-dija |mill-bahar | tad-dlam’, Mizzi writes. It is the trademark trope of a stately bard that, through such well-shaped, studied forms has introduced a sense of the mot juste in the Maltese language. It is, moreover, very reminiscent of W.B. Yeats and his great Byzantium poems. ‘Marbles of the dancing floor | break bitter furies of complexity, | fresh images that yet | fresh images beget | that dolphin-torn, that gong-tormented sea’, writes the self-styled ‘Last of the Romantics’. And indeed, Mizzi’s poetry here performs a calculated and informed break, away  - a misprision, as it were - of the usage of archetypal motifs typical of classical European writing. He is a poet of forms and images, a lyricist of profound respect for the universal/eternal thematics that furnish his contemplations in turn with novel uncertainties and iterative sources of angst.

This brings me to the most striking aspect of ‘Eklissi Perpetwi’: Mizzi’s writing refreshingly harbours a different order of anxiety from the one that informed his endeavour forty years ago. More than any of the preceding collections, this volume entertains an element of what Edward W. Said, in an evocative excursus on Beethoven’s ‘Missa Solemnis’, Visconti’s adaptation of ‘Il Gattopardo’ and Mozart’s ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ among others, has termed ‘Late Style’.  Poems such as ‘L-Arka ta’ Noe’, ‘Gerit’ and ‘Amnesija’ exhibit an uncanny sense of disruption of structural and thematic order that Said suggests is an ‘artistic lateness’ that involves a nonserene tension, works that tamper irrevocably with the possibility of closure, leaving the reader more perplexed and unsettled than before. Said defines late style as a moment when an artist fully in command of his medium nevertheless abandons communication with the established social order of which he is a part and achieves a contradictory, alienated relationship to it. Late work, therefore, constitutes a form of narrative or poetic or expressive exile.  In the final verses of ‘L-Arka ta’Noe’, a poetic testimony of acquaintance with politicians, noblemen and churchmen, Mizzi writes ‘Imma eqreb lejn Alla m’hemm hadd | fost dawn kollha | […] daqs il-hlejjaq ta’ demm biered | li go l-ilma jziggu | f’dimensjoni ghariba | ghal min twieled minn zaqq ommu.’ This volta in Mizzi’s poem produces a haunting image of nature that is radically estranged from established human order. As a poetic gesture it implicates the persona within a milieu that is not of a mere fantastic/ prophetic nature but is, indeed, radically estranged from, and contemptuous of, the semanticity of convention itself. The element of ‘lateness’ emerges strongly in ‘Amnesija’,where the poet makes a statement about the condition itself: ‘Irqiq irqiq |bhal vertigni jirkibni , | bhal deni, | bhal namur mal-mewt.’ It is a portrait of the artist flirting with the notion of the end through the natural process itself, even as he knows that this process will continue eternally. Late style, Said argues, is the renewed digressions and tremulous forays of creation that occur when art ‘does not abdicate its rights in favour of reality.’ 

This should, indeed, be a basic criterion when gauging the achievement of Mizzi’s latest work. ‘Eklissi Perpetwi’ is, as its title promises, an informed, thorough poetic questioning of the universal, the cosmic and the eternal. It is a ripened poet’s intrepid take on the great elements that circumscribe human existence, in the knowledge that an effective poetry will always require the bold contemplation of their alternatives. 

Mizzi, Achille, Eklissi Perpetwi (Malta:Klabb Kotba Maltin, 2007), 124 pp. 

achille mizzi



May 02, 2008

Gao at Warwick! Geeeee !!

Me aint goin a-grumble about my first year in the UK, that's for sure. So far, it's been simply Fab. I've attended readings and papers by Slavoj Zizek, Pankaj Mishra, David Harvey, Gilbert Achcar, Laura Marcus, Dave Morley, Barbara Harlow coming next week and many others. I've seen Ladysmith Black Mambaso,  and Orchestra Baobab, Academy of St Martin in the Fields, Bolshoi, Natalie Clein live. The magic just won't have breaks. Next is Chinese writer, painter and thinker Gao Xingjian, author of the powerful 'Soul Mountain' and Nobel Literature Laureate 2000, at the Conference Hall of the Warwcik Arts Centre, 14th of May 8pm. Fantastic op to meet the giant thinker face to face. By giant thinker I mean precisely that, a mind that has managed to coax literary rhetoricity, indeed, thought itself as Louis Althusser would have it, to daunting extents without compromising on the singularity of his subjectivity. A writer that, as his latest works of fiction suggest, keeps misprisioning his writerly solitude in order to extract innovative voltas around the inescapable predicaments of human-ness. Go Go Gao!

gao xingjian


May 01, 2008

Benigni electrifies the island


The puny, wiry actor hailed by many as Italy's remaining believable ambassador visited Malta in April where he received an Honoris Causa doctorate from the university. His visit proceeded to great media acclaim, with the world-renowned protagonist of 'La Vita e Bella'  offering his Lectura Dantis in front of an audience packed to the gunwales. His reading of an entire Canto from Dante's magnum opus, 'La Divina Commedia' was preceded by an exchange (a 'chiaccherata) with Dante expert Robert Hollander of Princeton, a brief but charged dialogue that may well leave its indelible mark in the history of Dante Studies. Unmistakably, Benigni's visit will be hailed as the Maltese university's signature event this academic year, and certainly an event to be remembered within Malta's cultural history itself. Benigni's visit was made possible thanks to the work of Dr Gloria Lauri-Lucente, Deputy Dean of Arts at the Uni, and many others. Well done!

(more info at

April 16, 2008

Big Bob Mugabe – The Wreckoning

Stepping down has never been a favourite do among
bureaucrats and politicians. No matter how putrid the dead
rats may turn, there they remain until democracy gets the upper
hand and the electorate starts feeding its spirit on hope again.
But despite our local exemplars, in terms of epic gaffes against
one’s own country, none of our local baddies past or present
comes anywhere near Robert Gabriel Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s
octogenarian chief.
In a matter of years, President Bob has wreaked havoc
on one of the most stunningly beautiful corners on earth.
Zimbabwe is today plagued by a collapsed economy, poverty,
inflation, the decimation of entire communities, forced seizure
of land, assassinations and torture. Living in Zimbabwe today,
expect to be around 37 years old when you pop off. If you are
lucky, that is. Bread, sugar and petrol have become luxuries to
kill for. Unemployment is at a scary 80 per cent while inflation
hovers around 7,600 per cent, which means that for the price
of a single slab of stone in today’s Zimbabwe you would have
bought yourself a nice detached villa with breathtaking views
of the Zambezi back in the 80s. Zimbabwe is running on much
less than empty.
The bespectacled revolutionary who stood up to Ian Smith’s
government, led his country to independence and took the helm
in 1980 is now clinging to power for life like a frightened animal.
He knows that if he steps down, he may not be as lucky as
fellow crook Idi Amin. His placid, matter-of-fact ruthlessness
has made of Robert Mugabe something of a myth. Admittedly,
some of us have at some point marvelled at this Ultimate Big
Man of Africa, surviving well into the 21st century, with an army
solidly behind him, hatcheting opposition as if he had no other
care in the world.
My South African colleagues, budding diplomats from
Cambridge and the UCL, cut me short as I harangue them on
Mugabe and why on earth is he still in power? “He’s an iron
fist. And he has stolen the limelight.” Arm-wringing EU leaders
bickered last year over whether to let Bob into the EU-Africa
summit. In the cut and thrust, the British Prime Minister, of all
people, pledged he would skip the talks if the Zimbabwean
dictator were to be let in. So the PM failed to be there as
Bad Penny Bob turned up, to the pomp and circumstance of
flashing cameras. Adding heavier insult, a sober faced German
Chancellor-ess scolded Mugabe’s regime, gravely pointing out
that, “The situation in Zimbabwe concerns us all, in Europe and
in Africa” and that “we don’t have the right to look away when
human rights are trampled on”. Tut tut, mein lieber Gott, Frau
Merkel, I didn’t know that one!  
What a good thing that Vaclav Havel, Nadine Gordimer and
Wole Soyinka accused the Europe-Africa summit organisers of
political cowardice. How come the people of Zimbabwe and
Darfur were not that high on the summit agenda, they wrote.
In a country crippled by dictatorial whims, hardship and
a parched economy, juiciness comes in one brand: Grace
Mugabe. Zimbabwe’s classy First Lady abuses the media’s
attention on her husband, having it easy with her Parisian
shopping sprees in the meantime. Mrs Mugabe shops with far
greater gusto than all of the Wags put together. So far, she has
blown around £2.1 million on shopping alone. She is reported to
spend around £75,000 in a two-hour spree alone. Some think
that, more than just her husband’s wallet, Grace has battered
Bob’s very taste for the rule of law. 40 years his junior, she
has even coaxed the President into getting her the luxurious
DC-9 airliner previously owned by Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner.
Another half a million pounds of government funds have gone
into Gracelands, her 30-bedroom palace in Harare, Zimbabwe’s
capital. Her latest property project is a £6 million mansion outside
the capital, a plum three-storey property complete with Italian
baths and Oriental carpeting. Not to mention the estimated
£200 million of jet fuel siphoned into Lady G’s forays around the
world’s poshest shopping centres, courtesy of Air Zimbabwe.
Ah, and those infamous Ferragamos. Asked about the thick
wads of notes she blows on shoes, Ms Mugabe remarked: “I
have very narrow feet, so I wear only Ferragamo.”
In many ways, Grace Mugabe reminds me of Louis XVI’s
wife Marie Antoinette lost in her lavish daily hairdos while flour
prices soared and the French people bent over in famine.
Contrary to popular Maltese folklore, the word ‘deficit’ was not
coined by a Maltese government. Back in pre-revolutionary
France, as the guillotine days loomed large, Marie Antoinette
was already dubbed ‘Madame DeFicit’. Only, the reckoning
did come to France in the end, whereas in Zimbabwe it is
taking forever.
A meek Kenneth Kaunda, former President of Zambia and
friend of Mugabe, has thoughtfully let us know that, “It is my
humble prayer that South African President Thabo Mbeki and his
regional colleagues will meet Robert Gabriel Mugabe, who will
be ready in his soul, mind, and body to respond to the advice
they give him and the people of Zimbabwe.” Give that gibberish
to the marines, Ken. Mbeki and friends will not lift a finger for
Zimbabwe’s sake. And not because they still worship Mugabe
for the revolutionary he once was. That too is hogwash. They
fear the hardline groups within their own countries, who would
use any anti-Mugabe move to hint that their leaders are caving
in to the whims of Europe and the US.
Even if my hometown teems with red-hot chillies hanging
from Escort-Mark-1 rear-view mirrors, church gossip and
witchcraft of every kind, I have never been superstitious.
Sometimes, however, the gods leave warnings we cannot
ignore. As I created the new ‘Mugabe’ file at the time of
writing, my brand-new Mac crashed and offered me the
Force Quit.
2008 will have to be kinder to the people of Zimbabwe. Or
no one else will.

September 2023

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