The Malta Independent 24 October 2020, Saturday

Maltese Poetry takes on a life of its own as it travels to Hungary

Malta Independent Thursday, 4 August 2011, 00:00 Last update: about 7 years ago

The Hungarian presidency of the EU has recently drawn to a close and the European Commission Representation in Malta organised a Maltese literary evening in Budapest themed ‘Deciphered Lips’. Francesca Vella caught up with the event’s protagonist, Adrian Grima, a leading Maltese poet of the new generation. Together with Hungarian musician Felician Kalmus, he recited some of his work which was translated into Hungarian

The literary evening, which was organised by Brian Buhagiar from the European Commission Representation in Malta, was held in the intimate space of Café Jubilee, a Maltese café in Budapest. The evening explored the creative spaces when moving from one language to another (Hungarian to Maltese) and from one medium to another (poetry and music). The Hungarian translations of the poet’s work were read by Éva Törzsök.

Felician Kalmus, the Hungarian musician who participated in the event, remarked: “I was really excited about the evening. When I got the invitation, I immediately contacted Adrian (Grima) to do something interesting, rather than just play music gratuitously.

“Adrian was really open and creative, so we put our ideas together, then we did some fine-tuning when we met in Budapest. I really hope we can repeat it in the future by extending the programme with more elements.”

Grima’s work translated into 13 languages

Dr Grima’s poems have been translated into 13 languages. “It’s always a great honour to be allowed into another language, another literary tradition, to work with other poets and translators.”

For the Budapest event he worked with poet and translator G. István László, who is also involved in the Literature Across Frontiers network and was introduced to him by Alexandra Büchler.

“When you hear a translation of your work in a language you don’t know, your work becomes totally alien, as if it had nothing to do with you, which in a way is fantastic, because the poem takes on a life of its own, as literature is always meant to do.

“Because I have come to know István and his own poetry, listening to the Hungarian versions of my poems in Budapest was quite special because they had a rhythm of their own, and in my work I try to work as much as possible on sounds and rhythm. And so does G. István László.”

Half the poems were read in both Hungarian and Maltese. Two were read in English only (translated by Maria Grech Ganado and Catherine McGrotty) and three were introduced in English but read only in Maltese. Dr Grima said the audience seemed to like the play of languages and the unpredictability of the programme.

The other crucial element in the performance was the participation of the eclectic Hungarian cellist Felicián Kalmus. Through email, the Hungarian musician and the Maltese poet discussed the poems and how to present them and in which sequence.

Dr Grima explained: “And then we did a rehearsal through Skype, my first ever with a musician, and it worked very well. That was when Felicián first played Paul Abela’s tune, L-Aħħar Bidwi f’Wied il-Għasel. It was great listening to him play the tune on his cello in Budapest, and then read my poem Fil-Kantina tal-Labyrinth Jisma’ ’l Pajjiżu.

“We had a small but passionate audience. It’s great to perform when you can connect with your audience, when you know you can strike a chord, leave a mark. Poetry audiences like the one in Budapest are very special because they’re there to listen very carefully and react. They’re after tone, emotion, changes of pace, tension between the words and the music, unexpected silence that lets the sounds settle…”

Strong revival in contemporary Maltese literature

During the Budapest event Dr Grima also shared anecdotes about his experiences in literary translation within the wider context of the strong revival taking place in contemporary Maltese literature. He explained that there are many reasons for this revival. A number of writers, well versed in pre- and post-Independence Maltese literature, felt the need to find a new voice, to elaborate a new literary language.

The first important work of the new generation was Henry Holland’s L-Artist tat-Trapiż (1996), a collection that really deserves much more attention and press than it has received, said Dr Grima, adding that there are now many who are writing Maltese literature in innovative and creative ways, and with this new generation and the technology at their disposal, there is a lot of scope for development, especially because of their engagement on the international scene.

The Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival

Dr Grima noted that the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, which is now in its sixth year, has been promoting Maltese literature among foreigners, and exposing Maltese audiences to foreign writers, especially those living on the shores of the Mediterranean where there is a lot happening.

This year, the London-based Maltese poet John Aquilina will be reading from his collection Leħnek il-Libsa Tiegħi (Edizzjoni Skarta), while Simone Galea will be reading from her recently published book of poetry Xi Drabi Mqar Persuna (Klabb Kotba Maltin). Their work is a great example of the new lease of life that one feels in contemporary Maltese literature. This year’s special Maltese guest is the evergreen Albert Marshall, who has just published a bilingual edition of his poetry in Maltese, called Jumping Puddles (Outlook Coop).

The other invited writers of this year’s event – the biggest so far, to be held at the Msida Bastion Garden of Rest, near the Floriana Central Public Library, on Thursday 8, Friday 9 and Saturday 10 September, which will focus on the Arab Revolutions of Dignity – are Yasser Abdellatif (Cairo, Egypt), Awlad Ahmed (Tunisia), Stéphane Chaumet (France), Jasmine Donahaye (Wales, UK), Mona El Shemy (south Egypt), Tarek Eltayeb (Sudan/Egypt/Austria), Niki Marangou (Cyprus), Myriam Montoya (Colombia), Rasha Omran (Syria), Mohamed-Salah Omri (UK), Robin Yassin-Kassab (Syria/UK), and Abdelrehim Youssef (Alexandria, Egypt).

Literary events in which Grima will be participating

Dr Grima has been asked to take part in a residential literary translation workshop in Scotland, which includes a reading at the Edinburgh festival.

He has also been asked to open an important Mediterranean literary festival in Puglia, southern Italy, with an hour-long performance of his poetry in Maltese (and Italian) accompanied by the exciting percussions of the Takadum Orchestra and the sound of the oud.

A bilingual collection of his poetry translated into Italian, La coda della freccia, will also be launched on the night. The book is edited by Costanza Ferrini and most of the poems have been translated by Mimmo Grasso.

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