May we have a word 2? | Stanley Borg, Lawrence Schimel, Glen Calleja, Claudia Gauci, Kallia Papadaki, Ghazi Gheblawi, Golan Haji, Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, Times of Malta
May we have a word 2? Print
Stanley Borg   

In this second series of interviews, journalist Stanley Borg for the Times of Malta continues to question writers, poets and translators coming from Spain, Malta, Greece, Libya and Syria invited to the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival last September 2012, on the current social and economic crisis in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

 



//Lawrence SchimelLawrence Schimel

Lawrence Schimel

Spain

Writer, translator


The theme for this year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is ‘Crisis Fare’ – what are the crises that you suffer and that, in turn, inspire you?

My life has been a constant crisis in terms of eating – I have multiple food intolerance and allergies, and seem to lose additional food items every year.

The most recent, and most difficult perhaps, has been becoming gluten-intolerant and no longer being able to enjoy such staples as bread, pasta and cakes. But despite losing so many aliments, I’m still around – this tenacious ability to learn to live with and work around one’s limitations is in itself is inspiring. In fact, I recently wrote a children’s book about food intolerances.

 

As a writer living in Madrid, you are on the frontline of the economic and social crisis – how are you living it?

Books and literature are selling poorly in Spain and it is harder than ever to survive just as a writer. In addition, the new right-wing government has recently changed the Education for Citizenship regulations, removing precisely those elements of diversity and inclusion that are the subject of many of my children’s books.

On the other hand, I have more work than usual as a translator into English, as more people look outside of Spain to try and open new markets. This has in some ways freed me as a writer, since I now earn my living as a translator, which offers me the luxury of writing what I want to instead of what I need to in order to survive.

 

Your writing is often set within a fantastical context – yet are your fantasies alternative realities?

Very often I turn to fairy tale and the fantastic as the lens through which I interpret the world around me. So it’s not so much imagining an alternative reality as it is using those powerful archetypes as the code to try and make sense of things.

I am a voracious reader and often think of the world around me in terms of what I am reading or have read. Using those characters, or seeing a thought expressed in a particular way by an author, in a poem or a line from prose, will make it real for me – they provide touchstones for me to use to navigate life.

 

What will you be reading at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival?

Mostly poems from a new collection in Spanish I am working on, titled Los Cuerpos del Lenguaje (The Bodies of Language).



//Glen CallejaGlen Calleja

Glen Calleja

Malta

Poet, storyteller, theatre performer


The theme for this year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is ‘Crisis Fare’ – what are the crises that you suffer and that, in turn, inspire you?

Crisis is natural – why link it with suffering? The crises I experience are usually the natural end-of-the-road of something. This could be anything from when I start getting the itch to call it a day at a workplace to when I start getting frustrated at not being able to do something physically or mentally. It also applies to when one is desperately trying to makes ends meet. The mismatch between where one is, or perceives he is, to where he aspires to be or to do is the crisis.

As for inspiration, that’s a big word. Very often, what I write starts off as an exercise, say, variations on a theme, and then I see where it leads me. It’s more about play and fun than about making sense of some strange overwhelming sentiments I’m going through. Naturally, I don’t relate to the whole idea of waking up in the middle of the night with an irresistible urge to write.

How socially committed should writing be?

It should be totally committed in the literal sense of the word – yet in my view, that commitment is impoverished when we reduce it to slogans, protest marches or hunger strikes. Writing is a spiritual exercise for the writer and a spiritual experience for the reader.

What will you be reading at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival?

I will be reading a selection of poems spanning over a period of about 10 years, including poems from my first book Eki t’Eki (Echoes of Echoes). Since my most recent work has focused on the transition between boyhood and manhood, I will also present something from my Ir-Ragel (The Man) project, of which I published the second edition last month.


//Claudia GauciClaudia Gauci

Claudia Gauci

Malta

Writer, translator

 

The theme for this year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is ‘Crisis Fare’ – what are the crises that you suffer and that, in turn, inspire you?

We share our very existence with crises. Crises can be tangible, such as what is presented to us daily on the news and they can be exasperatingly subtle yet so ever present in us, leaving us stumbling along and marking or crippling us.

What I see happening to other people in other countries affects me a great deal. Then there are things like sickness and death, two menacing shadows that have been a huge source of inspiration in my writing.

What is the role of a writer in a crisis?

The writer is an observer of life. He lets it seep into his bloodstream, transforming it into words. The role of the writer is to also peel off the hard skin which prevents us from seeing and understanding, revealing crude reality but also rendering it more beautiful and bearable.

How socially committed should writing be?

I don’t think anyone can write seriously without being committed socially, consciously or unconsciously.

What will you be reading at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival?

I shall be reading some of my poems in Maltese. I shall try to cover different themes and also read poems that were written in different stages of my life. They are part of my first collection of poetry which will be published this October.



//Kallia PapadakiKallia PapadakiKallia Papadaki

Greece

Writer

 

The theme for this year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is ‘Crisis Fare’ – what are the crises that you suffer and that, in turn, inspire you?

Crisis is a turning point, where things come a certain unfavourable way, and you just have to come up with an impending decision, to judge and weigh what there is and then go ahead and take a course of action or not, for the better or worse.

Crises are like a reminder that nothing will stay the way it is. In an odd way, that is soothing – to know there is always an imminent change that will shuffle the deck of cards.

As a Greek writer, you are on the frontline of the economic and social crisis – how are you living it?

Crisis is a heavy weight on our shoulders. You turn on the TV in any local, national or international channel and the second if not the first issue broadcast is if Greece will make it through. It feels like we are guinea pigs in a secretive laboratory of Babel, where crazy scientists and alchemists mix the supposedly right dosage of antidote for our prolonged and uncured suffering.

Apart from the virtual part of media, what strikes me is the subcutaneous disappointment in Greek people to the point of almost giving up, of wishing at times for the final strike to take place. Yet for some awkward reason engrained in our ancestral DNA, we still believe in miracles, in some wonderful deus ex machina to save the day.

Caught in between a grand past and an uncertain future – how does the Greek situation influence you as a writer?

I believe that often enough we suffocate under the weight of prestigious monuments, of expectations of a foregone glory. We constantly live in some state of nostalgia and melancholia for things utterly lost, where the ephemeral is trapped in a limbo and seems static. For the longest of times, we have looked for inspiration in the grand past and have turned our backs on the near or distant future. I hope this changes – otherwise the misery we are going through will just bear rage and hatred.

What does being a Mediterranean writer mean?

There is mildness in the Mediterranean landscape which I believe embeds our writings. It’s almost as if everything has been cast out in human scale, and this every so often grounds hope, compassion and understanding.

What will you be reading at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival?

I shall be reading a short story I wrote for last year’s Scritture Giovani at the Hay festival. It’s a short story about a son and a mother and how asphyxiating this relationship can be at the times we live in.



//Ghazi GheblawiGhazi GheblawiGhazi Gheblawi

Libya

Writer, physician

 

The theme for this year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is ‘Crisis Fare’ – what are the crises that you suffer and that, in turn, inspire you?

For me, a writer without crises is a writer without inspiration. As writers we tend to magnify the minute details in our lives and the lives of others around us, exploring different layers of an event or a personality that we bury under our beings. For me the crises that inspire me must be close and personal – I don’t claim to speak for a group of people or individuals or pretend I understand the suffering of others.

Do you think that Libyans are now rediscovering their lost identity?

In any conflict or crisis the first thing that people lose is the impact of suffering on the collective mind and culture. I tried to live the revolution through promoting that hidden culture, the history and people that were eclipsed by a one-man rule and the side effects of violent revolution.

Libyans emerged from their revolt hungry to know more about themselves and re-forge the identity that has been withering during decades of cult tyranny. It’s not an easy task especially when the dictatorship seeped into many aspects of Libyan culture and managed to pollute many forms of this identity. It will take a lot of work and courage to rediscover and reinvent our identity.

As a physician, you explore the human body. As a writer, what do you explore?

I believe the human mind is part of the human body – I guess I tend to explore the human body too through writing, the interaction between mind and body and the interaction between human bodies in a society or a situation. Above all, it’s about a way of connecting with others through words and images that writing can imply.

What will you be reading at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival?

I will be reading three short stories from my second collection of short stories. One of these stories is called A Rosy Dream and deals with exile and loss through the journey of three people in Paris in the mid 1990s, when Libya was under a flight embargo and most Libyans used ferries to Malta to fly all over the world. Incidentally Malta features in a number of my works, and this short story is one of them.

 

//Golan HajiGolan HajiGolan Haji

Syria

Poet, translator

 

The theme for this year’s Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is ‘Crisis Fare’ – what are the crises that you suffer and that, in turn, inspire you?

Like most Syrians, I am preoccupied with the news which I follow on TV channels, newspapers and Facebook. Another unexpected disaster might happen while I am asleep, a massacre in a village which I have not known before, a town invaded by the army, buildings with inhabitants inside shelled, a friend arrested or injured, or, after all, the regime is toppled.

Every day carries bad news which hasn’t become familiar yet, at least for Syrians. What happened to any of us happens to almost every one of us. No one is safe and no one can predict anything.

These are personal anticipations of the huge change which is continuing in Syria, and which may lead to other catastrophic endings. We are now in a new age and nothing can be as it was. This bloody change was not pleasant or easy or exciting – Syrian people know that very well and were not naively optimistic from the very beginning at March 2011. The uprising was dramatically inevitable and necessary, even though it is still difficult to explain and describe it.

How are you living the Syrian crisis?
Many Syrians are now in another diaspora, restlessly suffering from crossing the borders. They are sometimes refused from the neighbouring countries – the rest of the world pities them or throws suspicion on them. But this crisis had opened doors to recognise our country again, in a different tragic way.

What is the role of a poet in a crisis?

Surrounded by unstoppable aggressions and lies, the poet, like anybody else, sees the human destiny threatened every day, and sees the disgrace of the world that watches and easily forgets. Syrian people have another memory now, open on an ambiguous future where fears and hope are mixed. Sometimes, remembering transfigures death.

Now I live in Paris. I left Syria eight months ago with a small suitcase and taking none of my books. I remember how the border officer on the Jordanian-Syrian border funnily doubted that my local cigarettes were hashish. What I thought of as temporary residence in Amman turned out to be the beginning of another long journey.

What will you be reading at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival?

I will read poems – most of which I wrote before 2011 – which I could translate into English in collaboration with several friends.

 


 

First published in The Times TV Guide, Times of Malta