Passporting in June

This is a busy month for the ‘anti-passport’, with events organised by readers of the poem in different places and across different ‘genres’. An exhibition in Paris, a solidarity action with refugees in Zagreb, a multilingual choir in the Jura mountains, and a theatre production in Athus, Belgium.
From 10th June, as part of the collective exhibition Passeport(e) at the Maison des métallos in Belleville, Paris, Katelia’s Arbre de la diversité is a part-real, part-fictional representation of a ‘family tree’ of diversity. Each frame represents a different family member, and contains a portrait, an object, and a personal story of migration. I feature as ‘le petit-fils / in-neputi’, together with a French Passeport booklet, a short piece on my (complex) relationship with the Maltese language, and a copy of my maternal grandfather’s fake French id card, from the years in which he took refuge in Millau during the German occupation of WW2. More about that story another time, in a future publication of his wartime memories.


At sunset on 13th June in Zagreb, members of the Centar za mirovne studije (Centre for Peace Studies) teamed up with the Zagreb Light Brigade and the migrant cooperative Okus doma / Taste of Home, at the Hotel Porin, where asylum seekers are housed. They broke the Ramadan fast together, and an Arabic translation of the final stanza of the Passport was given out to some of the refugees.

The Croatian adaptation of the poem and booklet by a team of ten students of the CMS is almost ready, and will hopefully be presented after the summer. The ‘official’ (or for want of a less bureaucratic word, ‘recommended’) Arabic translation of the Passport by Walid Nabhan is also on its way; the Arabic translation distributed in Zagreb was done by hand, spontaneously, by the mother of a student who came to the poetry workshops I gave in Saint-Claude, in the French Jura mountains, during the second week of May.

On Saturday 18th June, at La Fraternelle / Maison du Peuple in Saint-Claude, a multilingual choir will be singing the final stanza of the Passport in French, Brazilian Portuguese, Spanish, Greek, Italian, Polish, Romanian, and even Maltese (maltais de vache française ?!  😃 ) The choir will be joined by the allophone children (a ‘neutral’ term for immigrant, French as second language) I taught last month, performing their own writings from the workshops, plus extracts of the Passeport poem that they re-wrote according to their own experiences of borders and playground discrimination. One of the writing tasks was to invent and conjugate a verb related to migration, and one of the kids, Lara from Portugal, created the verb passeporter. This conjugation and other writings have been set to music by choir director Stéphanie Barbarou, with whom I gave the workshops. This will be the third time that the kids will be reciting and singing their poems, after performances in front of the town museum and in the school hall.

On Sunday 26th June, at Centre Culturel Athus (a town in southern Belgium bordering France and Luxembourg), actors of Cie Le Grand Asile and Studio Théâtre Luxembourg will be performing Frontières, including extracts of the French Passeport as adapted from the Maltese by Elizabeth Grech. The spectacle is directed by Déborah Barbieri and Fabrizio Leva.

Luckily I’ll be present at Athus, the day after a performance at the Kulturfabrik in Luxembourg, accompanied by actress Sophie Langevin. We’ll be reciting poems from the forthcoming 40 Jum / 40 Days, a book about domestic violence, childhood trauma, and walking as self-therapy. The French translations from the Maltese are also by Elizabeth Grech.

In the mean time, I’m also preparing for the Crossing Borders – CITS conference in Mytilene, Lesbos (7-10 July), where I’ll be reading a paper on examples of creative no-border activism. Poetry, cartoons, independent journalism, graffiti and street stickers, and more.
To see the no-borders poem travelling through the voices and efforts of others is at once energising and exhausting – these offshoots of the ‘Passport’ keep me going, but I’m finding it very difficult to keep up. I collaborate with many wonderful people, and I wish I could give each one the time and attention they deserve.

Breathe in, breathe out. I’m now dedicating the bulk of my time to the Passport project, and have quite a mountain to climb – 18 months of activities to document, accounts to sort out, donations to give to the migration associations and collectives I collaborate with, and several new translations to follow up. Step by step. Pass pass. 

Nevertheless, I’m finally realising that the name Passaport Project, the label with which I attempt to englobe the various initiatives born of the poem and booklet, no longer makes sense. It’s all too organic for the word ‘project’; there’s no purposeful direction as such, no mid- to long-term plan, other than catharsis, awareness raising and solidarity through poetry and performance. The poem has taken a life of its own in the voices and actions of others, and it’s better that way.

Still, the presentation of the booklet needs a re-think. It needs to be more solid, clearer in intention, and more easily available. I’ve long been debating, at the back of my mind, whether or not to re-name the booklet with the title Anti-Passport. For more immediate clarity, though I’m not too in favour of beginning with a negative prefix. The inner message is a positive one: a protest poem, a long yet non-exhaustive list of border absurdities and atrocities, but nested in a love poem to humanity as a naturally migrating species. I’d appreciate any comments or suggestions. Time will tell.
I write this at home in Malta, a few metres away from the Mediterranean shore. Why the sea continues to caress the lands that have turned it into a grave, I do not know. Hoping for a clement summer. Judging from the cold numbers of the past few weeks, it’s difficult to be optimistic. The sea rescues continue, not far south from here. Médécins Sans Frontières are busy in the waters of Libya and Greece, and have just announced that they will no longer be accepting donations from the EU, Britian and other states hell-bent at making borders progressively more brutal for the people who have little option but to cross them. A very brave and coherent decision.
Donate to MSF here.


Meanwhile, we continue ‘passporting’. Heartfelt thanks to all the people accompanying me on this crazy, unpredictable journey. I’d like to say we’re united by the poem – in reality, we’re all over the place, but moving in similar directions. Hopefully, toward a world with open nation-state borders – or no borders at all.


One thought on “Passporting in June

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s