Inizjamed Blue White@0.5x

Festival Mediterranju tal-Letteratura ta Malta / Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival

2010 edition

Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival

organised by Inizjamed and Literature Across Frontiers

Thur 9, Frid 10, Sat 11 Sept, 2010 – Garden of Rest, Floriana, 8.00pm

(close to the Floriana Central Public Library)

Invited writers:

Miquel Desclot (Catalonia, Spain) – Victor Fenech (Malta)

Niall Griffiths (Wales, UK) – Biagio Guerrera (Sicily, Italy)

Valter Hugo Mãe (Portugal) – Pierre J. Mejlak (Malta)

Nadia Mifsud (Malta, Lyon) – Youssef Rakha (Egypt)

Ġużè Stagno (Malta) – Hyam Yared (Lebanon)

Guest musicians: members of Plato’s Dream Machine and Effie Azzopardi’s jazz band

with the support of the EU Culture programme, Literaturwerkstatt Berlin, Institut Ramon Llull,

Din l-Art Ħelwa,The British Council, Delicata Wines, St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity


Festival banner by Pierre Portelli


Dwar il-Festival / About the Festival


READ interview with Niall Griffiths by Albert Gatt


In the press






Garden of Rest / Ġnien il-Mistrieħ, Floriana


The writers will also be taking part in the LAF Malta Literary Translation Workshop 2010


Pierre Portelli and Darren Tanti


Adrian Grima, supported by Clare Azzopardi, Darren Tanti, and Inizjamed

Alexandra Büchler is director of Literature Across Frontiers.

Inizjamed is a registered voluntary non-governmental cultural organization founded in 1998 in Malta that is committed towards the regeneration of culture and artistic expression in the Maltese Islands and actively promotes a greater awareness of the cultures of the Mediterranean. Inizjamed is a secular, non-partisan organization that acknowledges that every generation must seek to create its own language and both respond to realities of its day and look beyond them.



With the support of







Festival Programme – Ġnien il-Mistrieħ, il-Furjana, 8.00pm



Thursday 9 Sept


Short poetry films from the Zebra Poetry Film Festival presented by Boris Nitzsche. Most of the films are in English

or with English subtitles

Ġużè Stagno (prose)

Biagio Guerrera (poetry)

Valter Hugo Mãe (poetry and prose)

Music: Jazz by Effie Azzopardi (trumpet), Eric Santucci (guitar), Leonard Caruana (bass), Reuben Navarro (drums)

Friday 10 Sept


Short poetry films from the Zebra Poetry Film Festival presented by Boris Nitzsche. Most of the films are in English

or with English subtitles

Nadia Mifsud (poetry)

Youssef Rakha (poetry, prose and photography)

Miquel Desclot (poetry)

Victor Fenech (poetry)

Music: Plato’s Dream Machine (Robert Farrugia Flores, guitar vocals; Frederick Abdilla, bass/ backing vocals;

Justin Galea, flute/ backing vocals)

Saturday 11 Sept


Pierre J. Mejlak (prose)

Hyam Yared (poetry and prose)

Niall Griffiths (prose)

All writers from the other nights on stage to read one short piece

Music: Jazz by Effie Azzopardi (trumpet), Reuben Navarro (drums), Eric Santucci (guitar), and Leonard Caruana (bass)



Book for Writing Workshop with Miquel Desclot



Mediterranean Literature Festival in Former Floriana Cemetery

9-11 September, 8.00pm

Youssef Rakha


Top writers and musicians from seven countries, including gritty Welsh novelist Niall Griffiths, Maltese iconic poet Victor Fenech, and Lebanese novelist Hyam Yared, will perform at this year’s fifth edition of the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival on Thursday 9, Friday 10 and Saturday 11th September, 2010, at the Garden of Rest in Floriana, close to the Floriana Central Public Library. All evenings will feature live jazz or alternative music, wine and food. Short films from the Zebra Poetry Film Festival, most of which are in English or with English subtitles, will be shown on Thursday and Friday and presented by Boris Nitzsche. All readings, which are meant for a mature audience, start at 8.00pm, and entrance to all events is free.


The poems and prose will be read mainly in Maltese and English, but also in the native languages of the various writers. The writers reading on Thursday are popular Maltese novelist Ġużè Stagno, Sicilian poet, singer, musician and actor Biagio Guerrera (Sicily, Italy), and the Portuguese poet and novelist born in Angola Valter Hugo Mãe who has published seven books of poetry and three novels and is included in Best European Fiction 2010. Friday’s readings will be by Maltese poet Nadia Mifsud who lives in Lyon, Egyptian poet, novelist, journalist and photographer Youssef Rakha, leading Catalan writer Miquel Desclot, and the well-known Maltese poet Victor Fenech.


The writers reading on Saturday 11th September are award-winning Gozitan novelist and short story writer Pierre J. Mejlak, Lebanese Francophone poet and novelist Hyam Yared, who confesses that “I write in French with all the influences of Arabic in which I was born,” and the well-known Welsh novelist Niall Griffiths, who will also be interviewed by Dr. Albert Gatt. According to The Times of London, any fan of Trainspotting will find Grits, the first of six novels published by Niall Griffiths, “persuasive, alarming and addictive.” The Scottish council estates of Irvine Welsh “seem like Toytown when compared with Griffiths’ Aberystwyth.’


The 19th century Garden of Rest in Floriana where the festival will be held, has been restored by Din l-Art Ħelwa. This former Protestant cemetery was for the use of the British military, civil officials, members of the commercial community, and their families, but one of the most illustrious burials was not that of a British citizen but of Mikiel Anton Vassalli (1764-1829), the father of the Maltese language, who died in absolute poverty in 1829. What may be Vassalli’s own copy of his Lexicon, the dictionary of Maltese he published in Rome in 1796 containing the famous preface “Alla nazione maltese,” is on display in the hall of the Garden.

On the three nights, a free glass of wine will be offered to all those present and there will be food for sale. A book stand will be selling books by Maltese and foreign authors. Live music on Thursday and Saturday will be played by Effie Azzopardi on trumpet and his jazz band and on Friday by members of Plato’s Dream Machine, with their traditional folk, punk-influenced numbers, melancholic ballads and drone-chants.


Ġużè Stagno


Inizjamed and LAF are also offering two 2-hour workshops (held in English) about writing for children by leading Catalan writer Miquel Desclot for a limited number of people. The workshop is open to writers and non-writers interested in exploring children’s literature. Interested persons are to write to The two workshops, which are free of charge, will be held in the cinema at St. James Cavalier in Valletta on Tuesday 7th at 5.30pm and Thursday 9th at 2.00pm.


The Festival coincides with the fifth annual Malta LAF Literary Translation Workshop, led by Alexandra Büchler, director of Literature Across Frontiers, during which the participating writers will translate each other’s works. Previous workshops have hosted writers from Algeria, Croatia, Finland, France, Greece, Iceland, Italy, Latvia, Palestine, Portugal, Slovenia, and Turkey, who translated their Maltese colleagues’ writing into their languages and whose work was in turn translated into Maltese. The first edition of this festival was held at St. James Cavalier in September 2006, and all other editions were held in Birgu. This year’s festival and literary translation workshop are the biggest to date in terms of writers and events.


This annual international literary festival, the only one to be held in Malta, is being organized by Inizjamed and Literature Across Frontiers with the support of the Culture Programme of the EU, Din l-Art Ħelwa, Institut Ramon Llull, The British Council, Literaturwerkstatt Berlin, and Delicata Wines.


More information about the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, Inizjamed and Literature Across Frontiers is available at


Adrian Grima, Coordinator, Inizjamed


Literature Across Frontiers is a programme of initiatives aiming to advance European cultural exchange in the field of literature and translation through multilateral cooperation within a network of partner organisations on activities encompassing research and analysis, publication, translator training and skills development, joint participation in international book fairs, literature festivals and other forums, organisation of larger-scale projects, as well as conferences, seminars and workshops. The programme aims to:

advance intercultural dialogue through literature and translation within the EU and with third countries, and in particular with EU neighbours in the Mediterranean region;

improve access to lesser-known literatures, particularly those written in less widely-used languages of Europe and underrepresented in the international arena;

encourage greater diversity in international literary events and in the publishing of literature for all age groups;

develop innovative approaches to literary creation, promotion, support for translation and training of literary translators working in less widely-used languages;

act as a catalyst for new multilateral contacts, collaborations and innovative projects bringing literature into interaction with other art-forms and exploring the social and political role of writing;

stimulate debate on relevant policy and financing at national and European level;

create opportunities for the exchange of ideas, transfer of skills and knowledge, and sharing of experiences and resources amongst organisations and institutions active in this field.






Miquel Desclot

Photo © Clara Creus


Miquel Desclot (Barcelona, 1952) is a poet, writer, translator and also an opera librettist. He worked as a university lecturer between 1975 and 1992 in the Bellaterra University of Barcelona and in Durham (England).


In 1992, he left teaching so as to be able to devote himself full-time to literature. He has written more than forty books for children and young people, along with the books of poems Cançons de la lluna al barret (Songs of the Moon to the Hat – 1978), which was one of his first collections followed by Juvenília (Juvenilia – 1983), Com si de sempre (As If As Always – 1994) and Fantasies, variacions i fuga (Fantasies, Variations and Fugue – 2006). Some of his translations or versions, true poetic creations in themselves, have been brought together under the title Per tot coixí les herbes. De la lírica japonesa (With Only Grasses for a Pillow. On Japanese Lyrical Poetry – 1994) and De tots els vents (On All the Winds – 2004). His poetry has been included in numerous anthologies.


Miquel Desclot has been awarded a number of literary prizes, for prose and poetry as well as translation, for example the 1985 Josep Maria de Sagarra Theatre Translation Prize for his version of Guillaume Apollinaire’s “Les Mamelles de Tirésias” (The Breasts of Tiresias); the 1988 Generalitat (Government) of Catalonia Prize for the best translation in verse for his rendering of William Blake’s Prophetic Books (Llibres profètics de Lambeth), which were mainly written in Lambeth; the 1993 “Serra d’Or” Critic’s Prize for Memoirs for his work Llibre de Durham (Book of Durham); and the 2002 National Prize for Children’s Literature for Més música mestre! (More Music Maestro!).


He is a member of the Associació d’Escriptors de Llengua Catalana (Association of Catalan Language Writers).

Hailed as one of the most prominent modern poets in Malta, Victor Fenech is a bilingual writer (Maltese and English) whose poems have been widely anthologised. Since his first co-authored anthology, Kwartett, in 1965, he has figured in seven new poetry collections; of these Altamira (1979) introduced the prose-poem in Maltese literature.

Poems of his were translated into Italian, German, Esperanto and French, and were published in international anthologies such as Orizzonte Senza Fine, Malet-Literatur aus Malta, Souffles, Poet India, Limestone 84 and Crosswinds.

Victor Fenech has also published a number of anthologies in the UK, such as London Pictures and other Poems, Today I waited, and Let Now Mdina Sleep, the latter had also a Dutch version Laat Mdina nu Slapen published in 2000.

Victor Fenech won the Golden Pen in 1974, and the National Literary Award for Poetry in 1997.

Photo © Getty Images


Niall Griffiths was born in Liverpool in 1966, studied English, and now lives and works in Aberystwyth. His first four novels are: Grits (2000), a tale of addicts and drifters in rural Wales; Sheepshagger (2001), telling the story of Ianto, a feral mountain boy; Kelly & Victor (2002); and Stump (2003), which won two Book of the Year awards. Grits was made into a film for television, and Kelly & Victorand Stump are also being made into films. Niall Griffiths has also written travel pieces, restaurant and book reviews, and radio plays. His latest novel is Runt (2006). His new book, Ten Pound Porn, will be published by Parthian Books in 2011. In 1976 Niall Griffiths’ family emigrated to Australia, as part of the “£10 Pom offer.” He lived there for three years, moving from Brisbane to Perth in a souped up station wagon. Thirty years later he returned to retrace his steps; this is the closest thing to an autobiography Niall Griffiths will ever write.

“Writing,” says the author, “is a medicine, it always has been, a tonic to terror and confusion even though it might generate both of those things. As a child, I grew up in a house largely without books but it was nevertheless filled with stories, of ghosts and wars and love and of the old countries, and I write to recapture the shivering wonder I felt as the old people around me recounted these tales, each one of them absolutely true, of course. Were I to be forbidden from writing, I probably wouldn’t die, but I’d certainly be very, very unhappy; it is as important to me as breath or food or love or God (to quote Raymond Carver). Plus it beats having to do a proper job, doesn’t it? Getting up early in the morning to go and lift heavy things, that’s not for me. I did years of that; no more, thank God.”   READ interview by Albert Gatt

Biagio Guerrera (Catania, 1965) studied singing with Michiko Hirayama. He was one of the founders of the art collective Famiglia Sfuggita. In 1992, with Famiglia Sfuggita, he presented Idda, which was then published by Il Girasole (Valverde, 1997). His love for music, poetry and theatre led him to collaborate with Emanuele Casale, Francesco Cusa, Gianni Gebbia, David Grubbs, Carmelo Vassallo, and Stefano Zorzanello.

In 2003 Mesogea published Dalle sponde del mare bianco, a book and cd in which he collaborated with the music group Dounia and Tunisian poet Moncef Ghachem, with whom he continues to collaborate within the project quelli che bruciano la frontiera. He is very active as an organizer of literary festivals and cultural events (Associazione Musicale Etnea, Festival Internazionale di poesia Voci del Mondo, Associazione Leggerete, Centro Culturale Zo). His poetry has been published in literary journals and anthologies. In 2009 he published his most recent poetry collection, Cori niuru spacca cielu.

Valter Hugo Mãe was born in Angola, during the Portuguese administration, in 1971. Law graduated, post-graduated in Contemporary Portuguese Literature.

His 11 poetry books are collected in the volume folclore íntimo, Cosmorama Edições, 2008.


His four novels are: a máquina de fazer espanhóis, Alfaguara, 2010; o apocalipse dos trabalhadores, Quidnovi, 2008; o remorso de baltazar serapião, Quidnovi, 2006 (José Saramago Prize 2007); o nosso reino, Temas & Debates, 2004.


valter hugo mãe is the editor of the new poetry collection in Portuguese Alfaguara. He writes about literature, arts and music in several magazines and newspapers in Portugal.


In Jornal de Letras he writes his «Autobiografia imaginária / Imaginary autobiography».


He has some work in visual arts. Just recently he became vocalist of the pop group Governo (


Photo by Andrew Gauci Attard


Born in Gozo (Malta), Pierre J. Mejlak has written books for children, a novel and a collection of short stories, winning numerous awards, including a Malta Literary Prize, two National Book Awards and the Sea of Words European Short Story Award.

His first collection of short stories for adults, Qed Nistenniek Niezla max-Xita (I’m waiting for you to fall with the rain) was published to critical and popular acclaim in 2009.

His second collection of short stories will be published in 2011.

More on



Nadia Mifsud was born in Malta in 1976. At 22, she moved to France where she completed her studies and started teaching English language and literature.

She is involved in various programmes – both in France and Malta – that aim to encourage reading among children and adults alike.

Mifsud writes children’s stories and adult prose in French, but feels more comfortable writing poetry in Maltese. Her first collection of verse, żugraga, was published in December 2009.

She is currently working on an artistic project with a Russian painter also based in France. She is also preparing a series of “polaroids”, meant for the stage.

Youssef Rakha (Cairo, 1976) is a writer and photographer. Born in Cairo in 1976, he earned a BA in English and Philosophy from Hull University in the UK. From 1998 to date, he has worked as reporter, copy editor and cultural editor at Al-Ahram Weekly, the Cairo-based English-language newspaper.

He took a sabbatical year (2008–2009) to work as a features writer at Abu Dhabi-based daily The National. His reportage, travel writing, photography, fiction and poetry – written originally in both Arabic and English – have appeared in numerous publications in Cairo, Beirut, London, Berlin, Italy and the US, as well as online.

Youssef Rakha has exhibited his photos at the Goethe Institute, Cairo, and has published four books in Arabic: a collection of short stories, Azhar Al-Shams (1999, Dar Sharqiyat), a photo travelogue, Beirut shi mahal (2006, Kitab Amkenah), and two books of travel writing with the Beirut-based Dar Riyad El Rayyes. His poems are soon to appear in a book entitled Kull Amakinina.


“I have only just completed my first novel, an ambitious work provisionally titled Kitab Al-Tugra (Book of the Sultan’s Seal), which took almost three years to write. The book is an imaginative evocation of post-2001 Cairo and a secular meditation on the decline of Muslim civilisation; it draws on Ottoman history and the work of the great Cairene historians Ibn Iyas and Al Jabarti. Initial responses from literary figures like the novelist Ibrahim Farghali, the poet Iman Mersal and the publisher Ibrahim Muallim have been very positive.”

“Born and bred in the Marsaxlokk of the 1980s, Ġużè Stagno’s freshness brought the sweat-drenched working-class fragrance to Maltese literature but, unlike many others before him, he refuses to align himself to the socio-realist movement.

His favourite work, the claustrophobic debut Inbid ta’ Kuljum, is a scathing journey through the delusion of youth, before delving deeper into urbane humour and channelling it into Alex, Redeemer, Elton and Las Palmas, the four narrators of Xemx, Wisq Sabiħa. His latest release, the equally witty Ramon u ż-Żerbinotti, sees him taking a nostalgia journey back to childhood.

Three books, three stories, one common setting.”

(Text by Wayne Flask from “Mr Writer, Why Don’t You… Tell It Like It Is?” at

Hyam Yared was born in 1975 in Beirut, Lebanon. She has published three books of poetry and two novels: L’Armoire des ombres and Sous la tonnelle. Her books have received several awards, one of which were the France-Liban price, and the Phoenix 2009 award for her latest book. Her first book, Reflets de Lune (Dar Anahar, Beirut, 2001) won the gold medal at the Francophone Games (Québec, 2001). She was awarded the Order of the Pléiade by the Association of Francophone Parliaments (APF, 2001).

Her poems have been published in Lebanon, France, Britain, Portugal, and Italy. She is Secretary for PEN in Lebanon.


In an interview with Beirut39, Hyam Yared talked about the fact that she writes in French. “I was raised in this tongue, even though Arabic is deeply rooted in my subconscious and daily life. I write in French with all the influences of Arabic in which I was born.”


Alexandra Büchler (UK/Czech Republic) was born in Prague and was educated there, in Thessaloniki and Melbourne, Australia. She has lived in Great Britain since 1989. She is the founding director of Literature Across Frontiers, a European programme of literary exchange based in the UK, member of the board of Culture Action Europe (formerly European Forum for Arts and Heritage) and of the Translators’ Association UK.


She is editorial director of Transcript the European Internet Review of Books and Writing, and editor of the international series of contemporary poetry anthologies New Voices from Europe and Beyond at Arc Publications. A translator of fiction, poetry, theatre plays and texts on modern art and architecture from English, Czech and Greek, she has translated over twenty-five works, including books by authors such as J. M. Coetzee, David Malouf, Jean Rhys, Janice Galloway and Rhea Galanaki into Czech. She has also edited and part-translated a number of anthologies, including This Side of Reality: Modern Czech Writing (1996), Allskin and Other Tales by Contemporary Czech Women (1998). Her most recent publications are A Fine Line: New Poetry from Central and Eastern Europe, Arc (2004) and Six Czech Poets, Arc (2007).



Guest Musicians



members of

Plato’s Dream Machine

Our motivation comes from capturing a freely expressed form in all of its rawness, a compassion for the commoner, struggling on his way, in his ways, embarking on a journey inside himself.

Disenchanted by the moderns, PDM jump back and forth between traditional folk, punk-influenced numbers, melancholic ballads and drone-chants.

In picture, Fre (bass, backing vocals), Robert (guitar, vocals), Justin (flute, backing vocals)



Effie Azzopardi started studying music at an early age. His first important experience on stage was performing as part of the brass quartet called The Bond Horns, which together with other local bands performed on various occasions.

Effie has played the trumpet with different bands. He was involved in recordings and TV programmes and has also had the opportunity of performing in live concerts abroad.

Jazz being his favourite type of music, he currently performs with jazz quartets at different jazz venues where he enjoys playing with his friends.

Effie Azzopardi will be playing with Eric Santucci on guitar, Leonard Caruana on bass and Reuben Navarro on drums.

The musicians in this band all play individually with other artists and in different bands.

Putting together their different musical background and styles, such as jazz, pop, rock and blues, the band hopes to give an original, enjoyable sound. They shall be performing jazz standards and a couple of Maltese popular songs with jazz arrangements.




Msida Bastion Historic Garden, FLORIANA


Extract from Heritage Fragments

by Joe Azzopardi

Published by Din l-Art Helwa 2010



Ġnien il-Mistrieħ, Floriana


The annexation of Malta to the British Empire revived the Island’s reputation as a cosmopolitan centre and its harbours further evolved as a considerable trade centre in the Mediterranean. This attracted many foreigners, some of whom died here and, of course, they were not all Roman Catholics. A large number were, in fact, Protestants from Britain and elsewhere in Europe, and smaller numbers of other Christian denominations, as well as Jews and Moslems, who could not be buried in Catholic cemeteries.

For a time, most burials of Protestants from Britain took place, in a sporadic fashion outside the Valletta bastions overlooking Msida Creek until appropriate cemeteries had been established in the area. This resulted in a conglomeration of beautiful burial grounds, alongside the already existing plague cemeteries. Unfortunately, of the Quarantine, Cholera and Greek Orthodox cemeteries, only evidence of the latter remains, and this with just a lone monument dedicated to Lady Catherine Hanley. Most of the others were cleared when the first Excelsior Hotel project began taking shape.

The only surviving cemetery in the area is the Msida Bastion Cemetery. The earliest monument recorded here dates back to 1806 but it did not become a separate consecrated cemetery until 1843 and it was hardly used after 1857, when Ta’ Braxia cemetery was opened in Pietà. So far, some 530 burials have been more or less definitively recorded, but the number must have been greater. This cemetery was for the use of the British military, civil officials and members of the commercial community, together with their families.

It was hit by a bomb in WWII, and largely abandoned for several years. Research into the history of the Msida Bastion Cemetery was first carried out by James Cannon and published, together with a detailed list of the burials, in 1990. The cemetery has now been restored by a team of dedicated volunteers from Din l-Art Helwa, who took up the work begun by Reginald Kirkpatrick. The restoration project was awarded a Europa Nostra Silver Medal in 2002.

Incidentally, one of the most illustrious burials at Msida Bastion was not that of a British citizen but of Mikiel Anton Vassalli (1764-1829), long considered the father of the Maltese language. Vassalli died in absolute poverty on 12 January 1829 aged 65. His burial here was arranged by a number of British personalities, chief among whom was the Hon John Hookham Frere (1769-1846) who met all the expenses. The facts leading to Vassalli’s entombment at Msida Bastion are rendered in the words of the Reverend C F Schlienz:

“As Mr. Vassalli never made profession of being a protestant we would have him buried in a Catholic burial place. However, when we presented him, for reasons that Vassalli had never been legally married (he could not marry regularly as he had taken minor orders) he ought therefore to be put among the dishonest at the wayside without any ceremony. To this we would not consent, and with the consent of the relict and the sister of the deceased [we] applied to Government for a licence to bury him in the Protestant burial place”.



Garden of Rest, Floriana

Formerly known as the Msida Bastion Cemetery, this served as a Protestant cemetery from 1806-56. It was restored over a period of ten years and was awarded the Silver Medal by Europa Nostra in 2002. A small museum was added in 2004.


This was the main Protestant cemetery in Malta for about fifty years from 1806. Records show that at least 528 people were buried here and it was more or less full in 1856 when Ta’ Braxia Cemetery was opened. The principal occupants are British servicemen, officials and businessmen and their families, some of whose ancestors still live in Malta today, as well as some Maltese.


The most famous Maltese buried here was Mikiel Anton Vassalli, known as the father of the Maltese language, who died on 12 Jan 1829, aged about 64. He was not on good terms with the local Catholic church and had translated the New Testament into Maltese against the wishes of the church. His wife was later also buried here in 1851.


The cemetery lies in the bastion formerly known as St Philip’s Bastion, part of Floriani’s outer defence works commissioned by Grand Master Antoine de Paule in 1635. On the higher ground above the bastion stood the gallows used by the Order. During World War Two the Cemetery was hit by bombs and part of the bastion wall at the far end and some graves were damaged.


The Cemetery was protected by a low wall until 1988 and much was vandalised and destroyed by wind and weather. Vegetation covered the graves and split the stones apart. In 1930 Capt Charles Zammit in his report on this cemetery commented that the great majority of the inscriptions were damaged and indecipherable. In 1988 the Minister of Education, Dr Ugo Mifsud Bonnici declared that the site was to be restored and opened to the public as a garden. A high wall and gate were built and extensive work was carried out by volunteers from Din l-Art Helwa. The original project leader, Mr R.G. Kirkpatrick died in 1988 and interest waned but in 1993 Dr Andy Welsh revived interest in the project and work proceeded steadily thereafter.


The restoration was awarded the Silver Medal by Europa Nostra in 2002. In 2004 a small Museum of Maltese Burial Practices was opened in the building adjacent to the garden by the Minister of Tourism and Culture Dr. Francis Zammit Dimech and Director General of the National Trust of England, Wales and Northern Ireland Mrs. Fiona Reynolds.

(from the Din l-Art Ħelwa website)




Festival Mediterranju tal-Letteratura ta’ Malta











Programm tal-Festival




9 ta’ Settembru


Films qosra tal-poeżija miż-Zebra Poetry Film Festival ppreżentati minn Boris Nitzsche.

Ħafna mill-films huma bl-Ingliż jew għandhom sottotitli bl-Ingliż

Ġużè Stagno (proża)

Biagio Guerrera (poeżija)

Valter Hugo Mãe (poeżija u proża)

Mużika: Jazz ma’ Effie Azzopardi (trumbetta), Eric Santucci (kitarra), Leonard Caruana (bass),

Reuben Navarro (drums)


10 ta’ Settembru


Films qosra tal-poeżija miż-Zebra Poetry Film Festival ppreżentati minn Boris Nitzsche.

Ħafna mill-films huma bl-Ingliż jew għandhom sottotitli bl-Ingliż

Nadia Mifsud (poeżija)

Youssef Rakha (poeżija u proża)

Miquel Desclot (poeżija)

Victor Fenech (poeżija)

Mużika: Plato’s Dream Machine (Robert Farrugia Flores, kitarra, vuċi; Frederick Abdilla, bass/ vuċi fl-isfond; Justin Galea, flawt/ vuċi fl-isfond)


11 ta’ Settembru


Pierre J. Mejlak (proża)

Hyam Yared (poeżija u proża)

Niall Griffiths (proża)

Il-kittieba l-oħra tal-Festival jaqraw xogħol wieħed qasir

Mużika: Jazz ma’ Effie Azzopardi (trumbetta), Eric Santucci (kitarra), Leonard Caruana (bass),

Reuben Navarro (drums)






Festival ta’ Letteratura Internazzjonali f’Ċimiteru

9-11 ta’ Settembru, 8.00pm

Hyam Yared

© Photo by Laurent Denimal

Kittieba u mużiċisti ewlenin minn seba’ pajjiżi, fosthom ir-rumanzier kontroversjali minn Wales Niall Griffiths, il-poeta ewlieni Malti Victor Fenech, u l-poetessa u rumanziera Libaniża Hyam Yared, se jieħdu sehem fil-ħames edizzjoni tal-Festival Mediterranju tal-Letteratura ta’ Malta nhar il-Ħamis 9, il-Ġimgħa 10 u s-Sibt 11 ta’ Settembru fit-8.00pm, fi Ġnien il-Mistrieħ ħdejn il-Librerija Pubblika Ċentrali tal-Furjana. Kull lejla se jkun hemm mużika live, tazza nbid b’xejn u ikel u kotba għall-bejgħ.

Il-qari se jkun l-aktar bil-Malti u bl-Ingliż, iżda jintużaw ukoll il-lingwi tal-kittieba differenti. Il-kitbiet huma maħsuba għal udjenza matura u d-dħul huwa b’xejn. Il-Ħamis u l-Ġimgħa se jintwerew films qosra bl-Ingliż jew bis-sottotitli bl-Ingliż miż-Zebra Poetry Film Festival ippreżentati minn Boris Nitzsche.

Il-kittieba li se jaqraw il-Ħamis huma r-rumanzier popolari Malti Ġużè Stagno; il-poeta, kantant, u mużiċist Sqalli Biagio Guerrera; u Valter Hugo Mãe, poeta u rumanzier Portugiż imwieled l-Angola li ppubblika ħdax-il ktieb ta’ poeżija u erba’ rumanzi u jinsab fil-lista tal-Aħjar Narrattiva Ewropea tal-2010. Il-Ġimgħa se taqra l-poetessa Maltija li tgħix Lyon Nadia Mifsud; il-poeta, rumanzier u fotografu Eġizzjan Youssef Rakha; awtur ewlieni Katalan Miquel Desclot; u l-poeta magħruf Malti Victor Fenech.

Is-Sibt 11 ta’ Settembru se jaqra l-prożatur Għawdxi Pierre J. Mejlak, rebbieħ ta’ premjijiet f’Malta u barra minn Malta; il-poetessa u rumanziera Libaniża Hyam Yared, li tistqarr li għalkemm tikteb bil-Franċiż fihi hemm l-influwenzi kollha tal-ilsien Għarbi li twieldet fih; u r-rumanzier magħruf minn Wales Niall Griffiths, li minbarra li jaqra minn xogħlu se jintervistah Dr. Albert Gatt.

Skont The Times ta’ Londra, dawk li għoġobhom ir-rumanz Trainspotting sabu l-ewwel minn sitt rumanzi ppubblikati ta’ Griffiths, Grits, “persważiv, xokkanti u jivvizzjak,” u l-oqsma tad-djar popolari ħorox tal-Iskozja ta’ Irvine Welsh jidhru qishom Belt il-Pupi ħdejn l-Aberystwyth ta’ Griffiths.

Ġnien il-Mistrieħ fil-Furjana fejn se jsir il-Festival ġie restawrat mill-voluntiera ta’

Din l-Art Ħelwa. Fis-seklu 19 kien ċimiteru għas-suldati Brittaniċi, l-uffiċjali ċivili, membri tal-komunità kummerċjali, u l-familji tagħhom, imma l-iktar qabar magħruf huwa dak ta’ Mikiel Anton Vassalli (1764-1829) li miet fil-faqar u ndifen hawn bl-intervent ta’ John Hookham Frere. Fis-sala tal-Ġnien hemm kopja tal-Lexicon, forsi l-kopja ta’ Vassalli stess, id-dizzjunarju tiegħu tal-Malti maħruġ f’Ruma fl-1796 li fih hemm id-diskors magħruf, “Alla nazione maltese.”

Il-Ħamis u s-Sibt se jdoqq kwartett tal-jazz magħmul minn Effie Azzopardi (trumbetta), Eric Santucci (kitarra), Leonard Caruana (bass), u Reuben Navarro (drums). Il-Ġimgħa se jdoqqu membri tal-grupp folk, b’elementi punk u ballati malinkoniċi, Plato’s Dream Machine.

Inizjamed u LAF se joffru żewġ laboratorji tal-kitba ta’ sagħtejn, immexxija mill-kittieb magħruf Katalan Miquel Desclot (li se jsiru bl-Ingliż), għal dawk l-adulti kollha, kittieba u mhumiex, li jixtiequ jesploraw il-kitba għat-tfal. Dawk interessati għandhom jiktbu minnufih lil Is-sessjonijiet se jsiru t-Tlieta 7 ta’ Settembru fil-5.30pm u l-Ħamis 9 ta’ Settembru fis-2pm fiċ-ċinema tal-Kavallier ta’ San Ġakbu.

Fil-ġimgħa tal-Festival se jsir ukoll Laboratorju Internazzjonali tal-LAF tat-Traduzzjoni Letterarja mmexxi minn Alexandra Büchler, direttriċi ta’ Literature Across Frontiers, li fih il-kittieba mistiedna jittraduċu x-xogħlijiet ta’ xulxin. Fis-snin li għaddew, ma’ għadd ta’ kittieba minn Malta, ħadu sehem kittieba mill-Alġerija, il-Finlandja, Franza, il-Greċja, l-Italja, l-Iżlanda, il-Kroazja, il-Latvja, il-Palestine, il-Portugal, is-Slovenja, u t-Turkija.

Dan il-festival letterarju internazzjonali annwali, l-uniku wieħed li jsir f’Malta, huwa organizzat minn Inizjamed u Literature Across Frontiers bl-appoġġ tal-programm Kultura tal-UEDin l-Art Ħelwa, Institut Ramon Llull, The British Council, Literaturwerkstatt Berlin, il-Kavallier ta’ San Ġakbu, u Delicata Wines.

Hemm tagħrif dettaljat fuq

Adrian Grima

Koordinatur, Inizjamed




Jieħdu sehem



Victor Fenech li jikteb bil-Malti u bl-Ingliż, huwa wieħed mill-kittieba ewlenin tal-ġenerazzjoni ta’ wara l-Indipendenza li x-xogħol tiegħu deher f’bosta pubblikazzjonijiet f’Malta u barra minn Malta. L-ewwel antoloġija li ħareġ ma’ poeti oħrajn kienet Kwartetttal-1965, u l-poeżiji dehru f’seba’ ġabriet oħrajn, fosthom f’ Altamira, li fiha introduċa l-poeproża fil-letteratura Maltija.

Għadd ta’ poeżiji tiegħu nqalbu għat-Taljan, il-Ġermaniż, l-Esperanto, u l-Franċiż, u dehru f’antoloġija internazzjonali bħal Orizzonte Senza Fine, Malet-Literatur aus Malta, Souffles, Poet India, Limestone 84 u Crosswinds.


Victor Fenech ippubblika għadd ta’ antoloġiji fir-Renju Unit, fosthom London Pictures and other Poems, Today I waited, u Let Now Mdina Sleep, xogħol li deher ukoll bl-Olandiż, Laat Mdina nu Slapen fis-sena 2000.

Victor Fenech rebaħ il-premju Pinna tad-Deheb għall-kitba tiegħu għat-tfal fl-1974 u l-Premju Letterarju għall-poeżija fl-1997.

Biagio Guerrera(Catania, 1965). Studia canto con Michiko Hirayama. È tra i fondatori del collettivo artistico Famiglia Sfuggita con cui nel 1992 presenta, a Santarcangelo dei Teatri, Idda, poi pubblicata nella raccolta omonima da Il Girasole (Valverde, 1997). L’amore per la musica, la poesia e il teatro lo ha portato a collaborare con Emanuele Casale, Francesco Cusa, Gianni Gebbia, David Grubbs, Carmelo Vassallo, Stefano Zorzanello. Nel 2003 pubblica, nel catalogo di Mesogea, Dalle sponde del mare bianco, con i Dounia e il poeta tunisino Moncef Ghachem con il quale continua a collaborare nel progetto quelli che bruciano la frontiera. Molto attivo come curatore e operatore culturale (Associazione Musicale Etnea, Festival Internazionale di poesia Voci del Mondo, Associazione Leggerete, Centro Culturale Zo). Sue poesie sono state pubblicate in varie riviste e antologie.

Photo by Andrew Gauci Attard


Imwieled f’Għawdex (Malta), Pierre J. Mejlak kiteb kotba għat-tfal, rumanz u ġabra ta’ stejjer qosra.

Huwa rebbieħ ta’ bosta premjijiet, fosthom il-Premju Letterarju Malti u żewġ Premji Nazzjonali tal-Ktieb.

Fl-2009 rebaħ il-kompetizzjoni Ewropea Sea of Words. L-ewwel ġabra ta’ stejjer qosra tiegħu, Qed Nistenniek Nieżla max-Xita, ħarġet fl-2009 u siltiet minnha nqraw waqt serati letterarji f’bosta bliet Ewropej.

It-tieni ġabra ta’ stejjer qosra għall-kbar ħierġa fl-2011.

(iżjed fuq

Nadia Mifsud twieldet f’Malta fl-1976. Ta’ 22 sena, għazlet li tmur tgħix Franza fejn kompliet l-istudji tagħha u bdiet tgħallem il-lingwa u l-letteratura Ingliża.

Hija involuta f’diversi proġetti – kemm f’Malta kif ukoll fi Franza – li l-għan tagħhom hu li jippromwovu l-qari fost il-kbar u ż-żgħar.

Mifsud tikteb stejjer għat-tfal u proża għall-kbar bil-Franċiż. Bil-Malti, tħossha iktar komda tikteb il-poeżija. L-ewwel ġabra ta’ poeżiji bil-Malti tagħha, bl-isem ta’ żugraga (Klabb Kotba Maltin), ġiet ippubblikata f’Diċembru 2009.

Bħalissa, hi qed taħdem fuq proġett artistiku ma’ pittriċi Russa li wkoll tgħix Franza, kif ukoll fuq sensiela ta’ “polaroids” maħsuba għat-teatru.

Ġużè Stagno huwa rumanzier li twieled f’Marsaxlokk fil-21 ta’ Settembru, 1976.

L-ewwel ktieb tiegħu, Inbid ta’ Kuljum ġie ppubblikat fl-2001 u bih irnexxielu jirbaħ l-premju MAPA, kif ukoll spiċċa fit-tieni post fil-Premju Letterarju.

Fl-2003, Stagno ppubblika t-tieni ktieb tiegħu, Xemx, Wisq Sabiħa li ntlaqa’ tajjeb mill-pubbliku u spiċċa wkoll fit-tieni post fil-Premju Letterarju tal-2003.

Fl-2008 ħareġ ir-rumanz Ramon u ż-Żerbinotti, kontinwazzjoni tal-istil li deher fiż-żewġ rumanzi l-oħra. Ippubblika wkoll in-novella “2 1/2” fi Ktieb għall-Ħruq maħruġ minn Inizjamed fl-2005.

Stagno qed jaħdem fuq numru ta’ proġetti fosthom rumanz storiku u skript għat-televiżjoni.

Hyam Yared Schoucair twieldet fl-1975 fil-Libanu. Ippubblikat tliet kotba tal-poeżija u żewġ rumanzi.

L-ewwel ktieb tagħha, Reflets de Lune (Dar Anahar, Bejrut, 2001) rebaħ il-midalja tad-deheb fl-okkażjoni tal-Logħob Frankofonu (Québec, 2001). Hija ngħatat l-Ordni tal-Pléiade mill-Assoċjazzjoni tal-Parlamenti Frankofoni (APF, 2001). Il-poeżiji tagħha ġew ippubblikati fil-Libanu, il-Portugal u l-Italja. Hija Segretarja tal-PEN fil-Libanu.

L-iktar poeżiji riċenti tagħha huma biċċiet mix-xogħol tagħha li għaddej bħalissa, The Wounds of Water, li se jkun it-tieni ktieb tagħha.

Alexandra Büchler (Ir-Renju Unit/ir-Repubblika Ċeka) twieldet Praga u ħadet l-edukazzjoni tagħha fi Praga stess, f’Tessaloniki u f’Melborn (l-Awstralja). Ilha tgħix fir-Renju Unit mill-1989. Hija d-direttriċi fundatriċi ta’ Literature Across Frontiers (LAF) – programm Ewropew ta’ skambju letterarju, ibbażat fir-Renju Unit, u msieħeb fil-Culture Action Europe (li kien jismu European Forum for Arts and Heritage). Hija membru tat-Translators’ Association tar-Renju Unit.

Direttriċi editorjali ta’ Transcript, ir-rivista Ewropea fuq l-internet dwar il-kotba u l-kitba. Editriċi tas-sensiela internazzjonali ta’ antoloġiji tal-poeżija kontemporanja New Voices from Europe and Beyond mal-Arc Publications. Traduttriċi ta’ proża fittizja, poeżija, drammi teatrali u testi fuq l-arti u l-arkitettura moderni mill-Ingliż, iċ-Ċek u l-Grieg. Qalbet għaċ-Ċek ’il fuq minn ħamsa u għoxrin xogħol, fosthom: kotba ta’ awturi bħal ma huma J. M. Coetzee, David Malouf, Jean Rhys, Janice Galloway u Rhea Galanaki. Editjat u ttraduċiet parzjalment, ukoll, għadd ta’ antoloġiji, fosthom: This Side of Reality: Modern Czech Writing (1996), Allskin and Other Tales by Contemporary Czech Women (1998). L-aktar pubblikazzjonijiet riċenti tagħha huma A Fine Line: New Poetry from Central and Eastern Europe, Arc (2004) u Six Czech Poets, Arc (2007).


Effie Azzopardi beda jistudja l-mużika ta’ età żgħira. L-ewwel esperjenza importanti tiegħu fuq il-palk kienet bħala parti mill-kwartett tar-ramm li jġib l-isem The Bond Horns, li flimkien ma’ gruppi lokali oħrajn daqqew f’diversi okkażjonijiet.

Effie kompla jdoqq it-trumbetta ma’ gruppi differenti. Kien involut ukoll f’reġistrazzjonijiet u programmi tat-televixin u kellu l-opportunità jieħu sehem f’kunċerti live barra minn Malta.

Il-jazz jibqa’ l-ġeneru favorit tiegħu. Bħalissa huwa jdoqq ma’ kwartetti ta’ jazz f’diversi postijiet fejn jieħu gost idoqq ma’ sħabu.

Effie Azzopardi se jdoqq flimkien ma’ Eric Santucci bil-kitarra, Leonard Caruana bil-baxx elettriku u Reuben Navarro bid-drums.

Il-mużiċisti f’dan il-grupp kollha jdoqqu individwalment ma’ diversi artisti oħra u fi gruppi differenti.

Flimkien huma se jħalltu l-istili mużikali differenti tagħhom, bħalma huma l-jazz, il-pop, ir-rock u l-blues u jittamaw li jagħtu ħoss oriġinali u pjaċevoli. Il-grupp mużikali se jippreżenta siltiet jazz kif ukoll għadd ta’ kanzunetti popolari Maltin b’arranġamenti jazz.





In the press

The Times (Malta, 02.09.10) – Maltastar – Wales Literature Exchange – Babelmed – The Sunday Times (Malta, 05.09.10) – Malta Today (05.09.10) – Illum – (5.09.10) – The Times (Malta, 10.09.10) – The Malta Independent on Sunday – Al Ahram Weekly, Cairo (15.09.10) – The Times (Malta, 11.09.10) –






Albert Gatt



An interview with Niall Griffiths




Niall Griffiths

© Photo by Toril Brancher


What does the reader bring to a novel? We tend to come to books laden with expectations, about everything from the characters to the language in which a novel is written. What, then, are we to make of an author who refuses to comply with the norm? Perhaps we need such authors to remind us that this has always been their job: to provoke within the reader that frisson of – what? Shock, perhaps. Or aftershock, like the deafening silence that follows an earthquake. The feeling of having crossed a boundary, of having suffered a bombardment and emerged, in some sense, redeemed. Niall Griffiths is one such author.

Born in Liverpool of Welsh ancestry, Griffiths now lives in Aberystwyth, on the West coast of Wales. These two places form the backdrop of the six novels that he has published to date, as well as two works of non-fiction that one would be likely to find in the Travel section of a bookshop. But in their mixture of history, autobiography and personal reflection, Real Liverpool and Real Aberystwyth are much more than your average travel guide. Perhaps the key word is in the title: “real”. What is most striking about the writing of Niall Griffiths is the unflinching sense of the real, the physical and immediate. Grits, his first novel, was about a group of young dropouts from different parts of Britain, whose paths cross in Aberystwyth at the tail-end of post-Thatcher conservatism. It contained some of the ingredients that would characterise his later fiction: the multiple, first person narratives unfolding practically in real time, an empathic identification with characters who are on society’s margins and who are constantly searching for something beyond their humdrum existence, whether in the form of drugs and alcohol, as in Grits, or in the violent passion of obsessive love, as in his third novel, Kelly+Victor. And yet, through the pitch perfect dialect and gritty themes, there always emerges a haunting lyricism, often conveyed through descriptions of the Welsh landscape. The violence that imbues Sheepshagger, his second novel, emanates as much from its protagonist as from the crags and valleys through which he moves. There is also something of that lyrical violence in Runt, his latest novel, where the narrative is told through the eyes of a boy whose purity of vision is also reflected in the language he speaks, a language which acquires its richness through its very simplicity.

In your novels, you often adopt the point of view of particular characters and they all have distinct voices, with their own dialect and vocabulary. Do you think of writing as involving a psychological act, rather like our traditional view of an actor who “steps into a character’s shoes”, or is it the language that is primary?

The language is immeasurably important, of course, and I think that any claims to ‘literature’ are redundant unless one is attempting to do something new with the language, but this must not detract from any psychological accuracy or empathy with the characters. They must not be mere cyphers or symbols; to make them so would be to align oneself with dry and remote academia. I may have invented these people, to an extent, but they’re emblematic of real, suffering flesh and blood, and that must always be the strongest motive and driving force.

The characters you write about tend to be outside the mainstream in many ways. Grits, for example, was told from the points of view of multiple characters, all of them young, jobless and high on drink and drugs. Stump features a recovering alcoholic who’s in trouble with the Liverpool mob. I could go on with more examples… Is your choice of characters political in some sense?

Yes, of course. The fallout from Thatcherism is still toxic, but there’s also a general and invidious move in Britain towards a deep social selfishness, an insistence on conformity and coercion, and a willingness to snoop; this is a society in which the snitch and the nosey parker are held up as folk heroes. Plus there’s the general dissatisfactions and frustrations of mainstream society – birth, school, work, marriage, parenthood, old age, death. For some people, this is not enough, and the tragedy comes in the lack of any avenue or outlet for such people. They tend to suffer and die prematurely. I’m at pains in my books to show how the abstractions of political ideologies, particularly self-serving ones, have specific and concrete effects; people – real people, with names and histories and hopes – are destroyed by papers signed in offices somewhere.

In Runt, the protagonist speaks in a different language. It’s English, but it’s not quite the kind of English we’re used to hearing, let alone reading. What was the inspiration behind the novel, and how difficult was it to pull off something like this?

I’d always wanted to write a novel which has a lexicon of just a few hundred words – the challenge seemed interesting, to be forced into creating new word-shapes. And the foot-and-mouth thing was going on then, rural communities were collapsing, there were suicides, the government was acting in its usual narrow-minded way. All of this coalesced with my desire to write inside the head of a young boy so far removed from mainstream society that he’d kind of invented his own language. This was quite easy to do; as it happened, I was living in southern Sweden at the time I wrote Runt, a flat place, so I was not bombarded with descriptive words to do with hills and mountains as I am when I’m at home in Wales, surrounded by high land. Call it synchronicity, serendipity, or just good luck.

All your novels centre around Liverpool or the West coast of Wales, especially Aberystwyth. Is the connection between these two places purely autobiographical for you?

It’s mainly autobiographical, I guess, although the social and political and cultural links between Liverpool and Wales, especially north Wales, have always been very strong. In many ways, Aberystwyth’s a kind of Liverpool in miniature; port, student population, vanished industrial and maritime heyday etc. But the connection is mainly an autobiographical one, yes.

Apart from novels, you’ve written two works of non-fiction – “travel guides” one might call them, except they’re not your bog standard “rough guide to X” at all. Was writing Real Liverpool and Real Aberystwyth something totally different from writing your novels?

It was very different. I do some research for my novels, quite a lot in fact, but I wasn’t prepared for the mountains of research that the travel books required (you’re right to put that word in quotes, by the way). It snowballed into something colossal. Nor was I quite ready for the level of dissatisfaction the writing of them would engender; what good to the world is a novelist who doesn’t write novels?, was the question I asked myself every day for two years. I accepted the commissions, and I wrote the books to the best of my ability, but I’ll never do such writing again. We live and learn. Or that’s the idea, anyway.

We still often think of literature as being British, French, Spanish, American and so on. I suppose that would make you a “contemporary British writer”. Does that actually mean anything to you?

Not really, no. I’m British, I’m contemporary and youngish (for a novelist; I’ll turn 44 on the 12th, when I’m in Malta). and that’s as far as it goes, really. The term is purely descriptive. I’m proud to represent Wales, of course; it’s a small but culturally vibrant and diverse nation and there is much more to it than stovepipe hats and mining and close harmony singing. But I travel a lot and I pick up influences from all over the world, especially America. It’s just the convenience of labelling, but it’s not something I worry about.

Where are you planning to go next in your writing?

I have two books due out soon; a re-imagining of parts of The Mabinogion called Ronnie’s Dream, and a travelogue/memoir about Australia called Ten Pound Pom. And I’m working on a novel called A Great Big Shining Star, about celebrity culture. Full of blood and puke and thunder. The usual stuff.

Niall Griffiths will be a guest at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, which is being organised by Inizjamed and Literature Across Frontiers and will take place from September 9 to 11 at 20:00 at Gnien il-Mistrieh, Floriana. His visit is supported by the British Council (Malta).

19 August 2010

Published in The Sunday Times (Malta, 5 September 2010)




Saturday, 11th September 2010


Fifth literary collaboration across borders

Lisa Gwen Baldacchino


A befitting hush descended on The Garden of Rest, Floriana, the mounting anticipation palpable as the scene was set for an evening of smooth jazz, film screenings and readings.


Burial ground to the “father of the Maltese language”, Mikiel Anton Vassalli, the garden – both welcoming and reverent – proved to be the ideal setting for the fifth Mediterranean Literature Festival.


Organised by cultural organisations Inizjamed and Literature Across Frontiers, the three-day festival kicked off on Thursday with Effie Azzopardi, Eric Santucci, Leonard Caruana and Reuben Navarro setting the mood with their jazz tunes.


Their onstage presence was punctuated by psychedelic lighting, which illuminated random trees, bushes, shrubs and the odd headstone that threw friendly shadows around the garden.


On the first two nights, a decently-sized screen projected short films in English (or with English subtitles) from the Zebra Poetry Film Festival, which takes place in Berlin. Presented by Boris Nitzsche, the films, and readings, were decidedly meant for a mature audience. However, the interplay of words with visuals had the members of the audience laughing out loud in complete enjoyment on a number of occasions.


The true highlights of the festival are, however, the readings. Popular Maltese novelist Ġużè Stagno; Sicilian poet/singer/ musician and actor Biagio Guerrera and Portuguese poet Valter Hugo Mãe performed on Thursday night. Readings yesterday were by Maltese poet and festival guest writer, Victor Fenech; Maltese poet Nadia Mifsud, who is based in Lyon; Egyptian poet/novelist/journalist and photographer Youssef Rakha and leading Catalan writer Miquel Desclot.


A touching, mesmerising aspect of the event was the collaboration of all those involved. Authors and poets came together through the sharing and partaking of their literary works. Poems were translated into Maltese, Portuguese, Italian… yet, despite the foreign tongue, the “musical” quality in the essence of literature was respected, while the emotive content remained unchanged.


Those attending the festival will have the opportunity of reading and signing a declaration form dealing with freedom of expression. It reads:

“We writers are convinced that, among other things, writing is a political action which calls for great responsibility… a responsibility which we have chosen to take upon ourselves…”


“While we understand and value the idea that our discipline can be a means of enjoyment and recreation, we realise that, politically, it can also be a source of disquiet…”


The Mediterranean Literature Festival ends this evening to the notes of Effie Azzopardi’s jazz band and the words of Gozitan writer Pierre Mejlak, Lebanese poet/novelist Hyam Yared and UK novelist Niall Griffiths.


Entrance to the festival is free.



Published in




September 15, 2010


Knights Hospitaller, Boat People and literary translation: in a strangely Catholic stronghold of the Mediterranean, Youssef Rakha reencounters his own life and work


And then the storm comes. At first we mistake the thunder for celebratory canon fire, the lightning for pyrotechnic pomp. Together with Valetta’s church bells, both have been ongoing for as long as we can remember.




With all that poetry bubbling in my head – and in so many vernaculars of the Mare Nostrum – by then I am convinced of my metaphorical place on the island: it feels like I have been here much longer than is actually the case. The hilly pathways of this, my walled city are preternaturally familiar, the variously textured grey and sandstone surfaces all around, shimmering blue patches of sea at the foot of undulating asphalt-and-cobblestone arches that rear cobra-like off Triq ir-Repubblika (Sicilian Arabic – sorry, I mean Maltese – for Republic Street). So are my curt exchanges with the black-clad waitresses at the café trottoir by the stone gate (on the other side is the fountain encircled by Malta’s bright yellow public buses):


When I sit at my favourite table to order espresso, it is as if I have been seeking out this circle of shade my whole life.


In the day I work with the Others in an antique-filled room on the roof of the same unassuming building with distinctive bright-coloured balconies that turn out to have ancestral roots in the mashrabeyya. But naked now in the cramped hotel bedroom, cigarette case and lighter in hand, I leap from the bed to the window, as I have done so often; I lean out.


The chill night breeze is refreshing. Rain drops wet the cigarette before I can light it.




The Others are writers whose homes dot the same intimate shores and for a day or so – a sizable part of the virtual lifetime we will spend together – it is as if we are castaways stranded on unknown terra firma: in addition to the island-dwellers Pierre Mejlak and Guze Santago, the Fado-singing Valter Hugo Mãe from Porto, the staunchly Catalan-speaking Miquel Desclot from Barcelona, and the proactive and miniscule Nadja Mifsud (also a native islander) from Lyon; the modern-day Sicilian cantautor Biagio Guerrera will arrive later.


We communicate in English, which though Malta’s lingua franca is the only non-Mediterranean tongue heard here. While we go about discussing poems and places, we are vaguely aware of the two forces that conspired to bring us together among the antiques: the UK-based Literature Across Frontiers, run by Alexandra Buchler; and the Mediterranean Literature Festival, Inizjamed, organized by (among many others) Adrian Grima and Clare Azzopardi.


They want us to translate each other. Out of the English approximations of what we have written or sung, they want us to make literature in languages we know even better than English. It is risky business, twice removed from the original. But then the writers are there, you can hear the cadences in their own voices and ask them what the sentence literally meant when it first rolled off the tongue, whether the implications of the word are positive or negative, what the meaning would have been had they used a different phoneme.


It works: Valter’s poems in particular flow incredibly well in the standard Arabic for which I am responsible; he is a Nineties Generation Egyptian poet inexplicably but completely displaced. The English – “my/mother used to say, valter be careful, that’s no/way to play, you’ll break a leg,/you’ll break your head, you’ll break your heart. and/she was right, it was all true” – may well have been translated from Arabic, indeed.


They want us to translate each other and later, when we exit Valletta and walk downhill to the converted seaside cemetery managed by a non-profit organization called Din l’Art Helwa (Maltese for “This Land is Good”), they want us to hold microphones to our mouths before an audience of at least a hundred and, while the wind blows, to read.


It works so well several of us, once the poems are finished, also sing.




The storm takes place on Thursday night. Wednesday is one of five national holidays in Malta: On 8 September 1565, the Ottoman fleet that had laid siege to the island since June finally departed. In the time of Sulaiman the Magnificent, the Great Siege was a glorious moment for European Christendom, and the Maltese – devout Catholics to this day, even though the word for God in their language is Allah and the greeting, until recently, essalam alaik – celebrate it with parades and canon fire, rowboat races and fireworks.


Never mind that the Ottomans were fighting not the local population but the Crusader Order of Saint John, whom they had expelled from Rhodes in 1522: the knight in armour remains a symbol of patriotism on this tiny enclave wedged between Tunisia and Sicily; the Maltese Cross hankers back to Hospitaller iconography; and no one makes a distinction between the Knights and the locals as unlikely victors over the not so invincible Turk. Valletta itself, my fortified city, was built in response to the siege, named after the Grand Master of the Order Jean Parisot de Valette.


Now a few months before landing in Malta I finished my first novel, which evokes a formerly great civilisation and looks up to the Ottomans, the last champions of Islam as such; by the end the hero’s map of post-9/11 Cairo turns into a tugra or sultan’s seal, and the hero himself is convinced he is an agent of the late Mehmed Vahtettin, the last sultan-caliph.


It is as if the celebrations are a historical insult directed at my person; it takes self-control to abandon my plans of running around the cathedral screaming “Long live the Ottoman Empire, long live the Refuge of the World” on the day. Still, I do not feel besieged in Malta. The siege for me has more to do with EU restrictions on smoking which, though condoned by the Maltese, cannot be said to reflect their temperament in particular. It seems wrong to antagonise an entire population just because I cannot light up in bed.




There are closer kin than the sons of Osman (who have long given up their Islamic prerogative anyway). There are Africans like myself stranded on the same terra firma, although in a different and much more serious way. Often Muslim, they are black, and because they arrive on sardine can-like boats from the shores of Libya, they are known as the Boat People. It is hard to see how they represent in the minds of some Maltese the threat of a Muslim takeover of Europe, but they are illegal immigrants and the island is hard pressed to accommodate them. Only the Catholic clergy seem to care for them, ironically. In the early morning they gather outside the Detention Centre in a quarter known as Marsa (Arabic – God, sorry: Maltese) for “harbour”, offering themselves for manual labour. They will do anything rather than return home.


I do not have time for them.




A week is not enough time to explore the island and its little sibling, Gozo – let alone listen to the stories of ID-less young men from my unfortunate continent – especially not when so much of the day is taken up by literary interaction at so many different levels. It is not enough time to prod Maltese intellectuals regarding their complex sense of national identity and how comfortably their unflinching alignment with Europe as opposed to North Africa sits with the Arab (Semitic or Phoenician) side of their heritage.


It is not enough time to discover the history of this simultaneously polyglot and insular place, to engage with its politics and mores, to feel welcome or unwelcome as an English-speaking Arab-Muslim among its by and large affable people, or even to attend Sunday mass in their beautifully mongrel speech. A week is not enough time.


Yet a workshop and a festival do provide opportunities, thankfully. And besides Valter’s poems and Pierre’s warmth, to mention but two causes for gratitude, I will happily recall reading the Lebanese poetess Hyam Yared’s French work in English (my accent notwithstanding), having run into her outside the hotel and spent some time revising the translations with her.


Likewise Nial Griffiths, author of Grits and Sheepshagger: a disarmingly down-to-earth Brit from Liverpool, currently living in Wales. For his 45-minute interview with the Maltese translator Albert Gatt – a beret-wearing beau who speaks English like Prince Charles – Nial carried his wine bottle on stage. Irreverent, funny, passionate about writing and dialect – not to mention, now that I have read his work, brilliant – Nial would have made the perfect mate back in Hull, where I went to university. I would not have met him otherwise.




A week is not enough time to learn Maltese, which having encountered it I know, rightly or wrongly, that I could learn in a month. Perhaps the most remarkable encounter of all, this: theories abound as to the origins of the language, with native speakers traditionally denying any connection with Arabic. Yet aside from philology, as an avid explorer of Arabic dialects, I will readily attest to this being one of them (Italianate though it can sound to Arab ears).


True, a good half of the diction is Latin – no abstract concept seems to occur in Arabic at all, giving rise to astounding phrases like responsibilte kbira (big responsibility) – but the phonetics, the grammar, the rhythms are all Arabic. Elements of Middle Eastern and North African vernaculars are mixed in such a way as to suggest this really does have origins in the Arabic once spoken throughout Sicily. One theory holds that, when the Arabs arrived from Tunisia, they forcefully evacuated the people and relocated them in Sicily. Malta remained uninhabited for at least a century, and when it was repopulated the language of the Sicilian newcomers, ethnically Latin though they may have been, was Sicilian Arabic. This would explain why, while it died out completely where it originated, that once very current dialect lives on in some form in Malta.


The Maltese do not often accept this theory because it seems to break a line of continuity dating back to the time of Saint Paul – the Saint Paul, who wrote the Gospel? But of course! – who is said to have conversed with the people in their own language – presumably some variety of Phoenician – when he arrived on the island during his travels.


Identities are constructed anyway, but perhaps the Maltese are not aware of the extent of variety within spoken Arabic irrespective of what you call or how you choose to transcribe any one variety of it. Suffice to say it is easier for me to understand Maltese than Moroccan Arabic.




Which is why as I lean out of my hotel room window holding the by now soaking cigarette and looking out over the dome of the cathedral where lightning will strike again, I continue to marvel at one expression for “I thank you” that I heard on first arriving: irringrazzjekom. Irrin is a corruption of or a variation on urid (standard Arabic for “I want”, which in the vernacular becomes arid, nrid and many others), grazzie is the Italian word for thanks, and kom is the objective second-person plural suffix normally attached to the end of a verb in Arabic. Out of these three elements, the Maltese have forged a single, beautifully expressive word.


While I try to light another cigarette, I feel no word in any language can express me better.



This article in Al Ahram Weekly (Cairo) is reproduced from YOUSSEF RAKHA’s blog.