Speaking truth to power

Hani Shukrallah

Hani Shukrallah

My little island has just had the great idea of organising a second national book festival, which for the first time ever will be held at the University of Malta campus. It’s great to see that, besides cars, computers, condoms and mobile phones, our one and only university remembered what should be its bread and butter. I hope it won’t be hijacked by the usual corporate dicks who always take over precious campus space — banks, religious publishing pests and other waste of space that is only producing complying zombies keener on reading their own CVs than the stuff that matters. The programme of events as organised by the National Book Council and l-Għaqda tal-Malti is very promising, even if a modest one; it’s a breath of fresh air.

Injecting more of that fresh air will be my good friend and journalist from Egypt, Hani Shukrallah, whom I admire immensely. I had met Hani for the first time at the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival in Bali in 2012, where I saw him speaking fearlessly about the Egyptian revolution, the Arab Spring and the idiocies of then president Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. We stuck to each other during the duration of the festival like two lovers, bound by our journalists’ blood and love of freedom.

Since then, Hani has been fired from the newspaper he edited by the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Ahram Online, which he founded. I wasn’t surprised, and it wasn’t the first time either. During Mubarak’s reign, he was already dismissed from Al Ahram  Weekly in 2005 for criticising the regime and the ridiculousness of Egyptian politics. Last year, he responded publicly with his typical firebrand response to the powers that be: “I have something immeasurably more precious: my dignity and self-respect. What do you have?”

The author of Egypt, the Arabs and the World, will be the main guest at the Book Festival on Campus on 30 April. I have the honour to be interviewing him on that evening, and can’t wait to meet him again. We have a lot to catch up on, and there’s a lot of his revolutionary fire that needs spreading on my comatose island.

Refugee

Refugee

Amman

AmmanAmman at sunset

Back on the rock for our rocking literature fest

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I’m back in Malta where, besides meeting again comrade Marx I will also be joining 10 other writers from the Mediterranean for a week-long writers’ retreat and workshops in which we will be translating each others’ works.

We will then present them in the weekend (Thursday 29 to Saturday 31 August) in what has now become a fixture of the Maltese literary calendar, the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival. You can find the full programme and details here: Festival website.

Here is one poem I will be reading in Maltese, translated by Albert Gatt, who will interview me on Thursday.

The Maltese festa
Date slices – half a dozen,
some qassatat, a dozen cheese cakes;
bread dripping rivulets of oil
like tears of sorrow
of Our Lady;
a statue of the patron saint
held high upon a gilded dais,
his head swinging from left to right
smacking the electric wire;
there's merrymaking in the streets,
the church bells knell
welcome respite from the panegyric,
a vintage sermon, worthy of UNESCO heritage status;
promiscuous youngsters gad about while on a break
from Cana’s marriage course,
a little boy high on his father’s beer,
petards in the sky poking at God,
an officer with damp armpits wielding an ice cream,
a fat man in a stained singlet,
his fatter wife nicking his chips,
a pushchair in the middle of the road, its wheel stuck in a ditch,
a chair reserved for the president of the band club,
the mayor decked with ribbons,
colourful toys all Made in China,
handfuls of paper shreds from balconies,
flags on their poles topped with blue lights
which imitate the solutide of latrines,
lightbulb festoons aglow with stolen power supplies,
houses with open doors,
chandeliers ablaze
and brand-new lace,
endless mounts of ganutell on marbled chests of drawers in hallways,
the envy of the neighbours grouped outside
in sour clouds of sweat, petards and powder
waiting to be dragged by next day's current
into an azure sea polluted
by an entire village.

9789995738235And in other news, my new book of poems in Maltese, Passju Taħt ix-Xita (which translates into Hopscotch in the Rain – also the name of this blog, just in case you missed it) is on sale, just published by Horizons Publications. I just love the cover photo and design by my friend Gilbert Calleja. Gilbert, you’re not only sexy, but a great artist too.

You can now order a copy by clicking here.

Love: can’t get it wrong, can’t get it right

BYRON BAY WRITERS' FESTIVAL BLOG

A passionate conversation of love and poetry with CJ Bowerbird, Kelly-Lee Hickey, Lisa Jacobson and Karl Schembri filled the tent with the incredible emotions of both humour and sorrow.

The most powerful element of the session was listening to the poets perform their work.

Poetry slam champion CJ Bowerbird said he writes love poems obliquely with the emotions of longing, lust and loss in mind.

“I write about human love not romantic love,” he told the audience.

Bowerbird recited his poem, Hunger Trilogy, which is about the connection between food and love.

“First to know the thing you seek, learn you must the way to eat. I asked again how should a man truly purely live his life? He said how could you learn this one great truth when you don’t know how to eat some fruit.”

Poetry slam champion of 2010, Kelly-Lee Hickey said “I’m a poet, I…

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When facts lie

BYRON BAY WRITERS' FESTIVAL BLOG

Drones fly overhead 24 hours a day. It’s like having a factory upstairs that never switches off and whose humming you cannot escape.

At night, when the navy attacks it’s worse. You listen to the whizzing of missiles sliding overhead and the inevitable explosive follow-up and wonder where did it hit? Who did it hit?

There is violence every day but when there is an escalation like this, there is no break, no shelter and no safety.

Karl Schembri described the recent violent surges in the Gaza Strip where he lives and works with such poetic elegance that, for a moment, you share some small part of that discomfort.

With a journalistic background, Schembri holds facts sacred but says they rarely serve to move people.

“I could tell you all the facts about the Palestine/Israel conflict and you wouldn’t flinch. You cannot measure suffering with a statistic,” said Schembri.

“Fiction…

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Byron Bay, hey hey hey

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In a few days’ time, I will be joining other authors in Byron Bay, Australia, for the yearly writers’ festival there. It’s always an inspiring experience, meeting other writers, and even more the readers, getting their reactions instantaneously. There’s a whimsical touch to such encounters that I love to take back with me, after all is said and done.

I will be reading from my new book of poetry, Remember the Future, and participating on three sessions:

Discomfort zone: how extreme environments affect creativity.

Do poets do it better? Writing the book of love.

In this I believe: credos, faiths and affirmations for the 21st century.

For more information, click here, and here to download the festival programme.

Remember the Future published in the US

0044-REMEMBER-FUTURE-CoverMy collection of poems Remember the Future has just been published by Writing Knights Press (US). This is my first ever collection of poems in English. I’ve only been writing creatively in English since July last year, so it’s both exciting and terrifying.

The book can be bought directly from the publisher by clicking here.

My sincerest thanks to Adrian Grima, Albert Gatt, Albert Marshall, Mario Azzopardi, the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, Festival de Lodève Voix de la Méditerranée, and the Ubud Readers and Writers Festival.

Biljett Miftuħ/Open Ticket

Biljett Miftuħ/Open Ticket – Tales, poems & music of protest, love & death

10 April 2013, Coach and Horses, Malta

Photos by Gilbert Calleja/www.gilbertcalleja.com 

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Gaza

Drones watching on us
sending back images
to faraway aliens
capturing our daily dance
rituals of hope and misery
ruins of love and war
donkey-carting joy and sadness
the bitter lemons and the sweetest fried cakes
the olives, the grapes and the limbs
the God-sent births and God-taken martyrs
the empty nets and our plentiful tunnels
the powerless power plant
horizon-less ocean staring at us unblinking
sea water the brine of our hearts
pointed at by bored recruits
feigning intelligence through the crosshairs
feigning understanding
with the help of a console in Tel Aviv
zooming in on our entrails
watching us, wanting us
till the end of their shift.

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