In a highly participative event, eight invited authors (Adrian Grima, Albert Gatt, Clare Azzopardi, Claudia Gauci, Keith Borg, Kevin Saliba, Kit Azzopardi and Noel Tanti) recited a poem of their choice from Cassar’s book, followed by an excerpt of their own work in dialogue with the chosen poem. Actors Éire Stuart u Jacob Piccinino performed a theatrical adaptation of the long English poem The Long Rope, and there was music from Plato’s Dream Machine and Brikkuni, offering a taste of their upcoming album, Trabokk, due to be launched on 11th February.
Divided into four sections, the poems of Bejn / Between explore a wide range of themes and experiences, with rhythms that switch from the solemn and the nostalgic to the vehement and the playful, with instinctive attention to the leap from the white of the page to the voiced energy of the stage. In a well-tempered search for balance between the bitter-sweetness of personal utterance and the generosity and rage of collective expression, verses of friendship, affection, and the neurotic filtration of memory are kneaded together with a series of events experienced by the author as much from a distance as from close by, among them the 2004 train explosions in Madrid, the bombardment of Gaza in 2009, and the earthquake that shattered the city of L’Aquila in the same year. As a leitmotiv of the book, the spell of the parched maps followed along the road are no obstacle for the ever-itinerant return to the salt-laden air of the Mediterranean village, and to the wide-open horizon stretching beneath the cliffs of Mnajdra.
According to fellow contemporary poet Norbert Bugeja, “Cassar’s poetry sails effortlessly between the shifting islands of the imagination and the fertile valleys of Huelva, docking, fleetingly, at the shrill markets of Arguelles before plying the lone thoughts that translate within a kidney-clad darkness. Its rhythms take on the feverish pace of our time, even as the poet’s images endow the terse and the ephemeral with a subtle and lingering beauty. These poems evince the intensity of a discourse that is at once planetary and personal, impulsive and meticulous. Cassar’s verse ponders both the shifting maps and the fearful symmetries of human experience, and does so with eloquence, tact and an insatiable sense of curiosity.”
A number of the poems in Bejn / Between have been published in translation in anthologies in Europe and beyond, and are appearing in the Maltese original for the first time: among them, Erba’ blatiet (Four rocks), a lyrical description of the shape of the Maltese islands which has been recited in Luxembourg, Grenoble, Struga (Macedonia) and Washington DC, and other excerpts such as Il-poeżija (Poetry) and Meta binti tieqaf tibki (When my baby stops crying), which have been versed into Galician, Slovene, Mandarin and Japanese. The book also includes a revised version of Jum ir-Riflessjoni (Day of Reflection), a pseudo-satirical poem written during the 2008 elections, and in a section of its own, Nannu, Nanna, a double elegy for the author’s late grandparents.
Born in London to Maltese parents in 1978, Antoine Cassar grew up between England, Malta and Spain, and worked and studied between Italy, France and Luxembourg. In 2004, after a thirteen-year absence from the Maltese islands, he returned to Qrendi, the village of his family, to re-learn a language he had almost forgotten. A writer of Maltese, English and multilingual verse, in 2008 Cassar represented Malta, together with Norbert Bugeja, at the Biennale des Jeunes Créateurs de l’Europe et la Méditerranée in Bari, and recited his poetry with Nabil Salameh of the Italo-Palestinian musical duo Radiodervish. His book Mużajk, an exploration in multilingual verse (Ed. Skarta, 2008) was presented at the Leipzig Book Fair and at the poetry festivals of Copenhagen and Berlin. In September 2009, the composition Merħba, a poem of hospitality was awarded the United Planet Writing Prize. Passaport (2009), printed in the form of an anti-passport for all peoples and all landscapes, has been published and presented in several languages, in a number of European and Asian cities, with profits donated to local associations providing assistance to migrants and asylum seekers.
Bejn / Between, Antoine Cassar’s first collection of poems in Maltese, is published by Edizzjoni Skarta, an independent initiative founded in 2007, and the winner of three national book prizes in the past four years (Riħ min-Nofsinhar, Id-Demm Nieżel bħax-Xita, & Leħnek il-Libsa Tiegħi). The book is designed by Rafael Rivera, and includes illustrations by artist Helga Portanier.