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.


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The shape of Lampedusa (reprise)

(Written following a trip to Lampedusa, two years after writing The shape of Lampedusa – part 1)
Detail of mural on the side of the Biblioteca di Lampedusa per bambini e ragazzi, Via Roma

Detail of mural on the side of the Biblioteca di Lampedusa per bambini e ragazzi, Via Roma

After having visited Lampedusa, I see four new shapes in its map.

As suggested by this mural on the side of a children’s library in Via Roma, Lampedusa is the shape of a red-hot iron. Not for flattening the waves, which have long been corroding its surface. Nor for straightening the eddies in the air, the wind is much too strong. In fact, this burning iron is pretty much useless. It could have served to smooth out and erase the creases on the map of the Mediterranean – the imaginary border between north and south, for example. Yet it’s not only the elements that have stopped it from doing so: the continent has decided to put the island to other uses.

Lampedusa is the shape of a rifle. One of countless firearms roaming across this heavily militarised rock. Radar stations pin down its three major capes. Outside the port and town that straddle the trigger, every third vehicle is an army jeep, carabinieri, or guardia di finanza. At the end of the barrel is Albero Sole, the highest and windiest point of the island, with an altitude of 133 m. Just before the cliff, a crucified Jesus keeps his gaze down, avoiding the sight of the 190.5 m NATO-installed transmitter, shooting out radio signals to aid navigation. The barrel points to the sunset in Tunisia, but the signals are intended for travellers from other lands. Among them, the Frontex ships circling the island, sliding steadily along the horizon.

Lampedusa is the shape of a key. It may have dropped into the sea a long time ago, as it has become rough and rusted. It’s been tried on a few doors up north, without any luck. Sometimes it enters, but doesn’t turn. Sometimes it turns, but in a vacuum. The right door may not even exist any more. Or perhaps the door still needs to be built, with its corresponding keyhole. Time will tell.

Lampedusa is shaped like the minute hand of a clock. On Lampedusa, it’s always a quarter to. The population lives in a permanent state of standby. Too little time to start or finish anything, nothing to do but wait for the next scheduled surprise. It may come by sea, it may come by air. A surprise which is always on its way. The iron grows hotter, the rifle continues to aim, the key rusts a little more. Yet time refuses to pass, and the sun remains low in the west. As if the entire planet were still, even as the wind continues to howl, or to whistle its way up the coves.

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Lejl 30 (Stħajjel)

Ritratt: Bongo Nyah

Ritratt: Bongo Nyah

Ħadt pjaċir ħafna naqra mill-poeżiji tal-Erbgħin Jum għand il-Bongo Nyah il-Ħamis li għadda, speċjalment bil-kumpanija u l-kuraġġ ta’ Adolf, Alex u z-Zizza jdoqqu warajja. Apparti t-tema fil-bidu ta’ kull taqsima u l-bażi ta’ Lejl 34 (il-poeżija ta’ Ġesù u t-tentazzjoni), il-mużika kienet kollha improvizzata, u d-dinamika ta’ bejniethom sabiħa wisq. Daqqew ħafna aħjar milli diġà kien imwiegħed miż-żewġ sessjonijiet li kienu għamlu fil-garaxx tal-Marsa. F’diversi mumenti xtaqt nieqaf mill-qari ħa nisma’ sew il-mużika u nintilef fiha. Il-beats taz-Zizza, ir-riffs ta’ Adolf u n-noti għall-għarrieda ta’ Alex baqgħu għaddejjin bejn widnejja f’qiegħ il-lejl, u sa jumejn wara. Ħin minnhom ma nafx kontx qiegħed niftakar sew il-mużika jew nikkomponi fuq l-istil tagħhom, tant kien organiku. Prosit Alex tal-idea u talli laqqajtna. Aħfrulna tal-problemi ta’ volum li kien hemm fl-ewwel taqsima, fejn mid-dehra kliemi ma kienx jinftiehem, l-iktar fuq wara. Mill-bqija, kien hemm min fehem; kien hemm min ma fehemx; u kien hemm min qagħad jidħaq – tajjeb ukoll. Grazzi lill-Bongo Nyah u lil kull min ġie. U grazzi lil David Schembri tax-xogħol grafiku.

wiedDil-ġimgħa ninsab il-Wied (dak taż-Żurrieq, b’antonomażja), fl-istess kamra fejn nibtu l-idea u l-ħtieġa tal-Erbgħin Jum fi tmiem is-sajf li għadda. Ftit jiem wara, lura fil-griż tal-Lussemburgu, stenbaħt f’nofs ta’ lejl b’ħasda xxoqq l-għadam, u dak il-ħin smajt f’moħħi l-versi ta’ Lejl 0 u niżżilthom f’salt. Minn hemm ‘il quddiem komplejt nimxi u nikteb ftit jew ħafna kuljum, u issa għaddej norbot l-aħħar truf tas-sensiela. It-tir huwa li l-ktieb joħroġ f’Novembru jew Diċembru, u li nerġgħu nagħmlu l-kunċert-qari bħala tnedija, f’teatru jew sala.

skrivanijaIntant, jumejn ilu u dalgħodu reġgħu saqsewni. “Meta se tiżżewweg, ‘tazzetta’, tagħmel babies?” Niddedika l-poeżija t’hawn isfel – Lejl 30 – lil kull min laħaq ċerta età u għadu jibża’ ‘jazzetta’ u jrabbi familja. (U lil min sempliċement ma jridx – deċiżjoni li iktar ma nikber iktar nammiraha.) Recording mill-garaxx tal-Marsa.

Lejl 30

U seta’ kien agħar. Stħajjel tfajjel jixbhek,
waħdu jigdem id-dlamijiet fir-rokna,

b’ommu tgara l-kotba lejn ras missieru
għax qatta’ lejl ieħor imqajjem jikteb.
Stħajlek ġo loft bi skrivanija ċkejkna
imdawla kemm kemm minn tamboċċ imxattar
jilqa’ t-tisbit tal-isdra tat-tjur bojod
li dabulhom ġwinħajhom f’djul ix-xemx.
Stħajjel il-kaxxa tax-xjaten iddeffes
prodott wara l-ieħor fil-baħħ ta’ moħħok
bit-tifel jiftaħlu u jtenni kull kelma
u joqmos hieni ma’ kull melodija.
Stħajlek tul l-indani ta’ supermarket
titħaxken ma’ kull friża ħa tinġazza
biex ma tismax il-krib u ma tgerfixx
id-daqq taċ-checkout mat-taqtiq ta’ qalbek.
Stħajjel l-ikliet għand familji razzisti
jiddiskutu l-beżgħat tal-aħħar moda,

b’fommok imsakkar ma jmurx tisfa mostru
fuq wara tal-pitazzi tal-iskola.
Stħajlek titlaq mix-xogħol mingħajr ma tifraħ
u ssuqha sad-dar bil-ħmistax fis-siegħa
sa t-tpaqpiq itarrax it-twerżiq f’rasek.
Stħajlek tistartja l-magna maż-żerniq

u ssuqha sieket tul it-textix xitwi
bil-kelma Vladivostok tikber f’fommok.
Stħajlek titkaħħal ma’ mappa ta’ gżira
li ħallejt tegħreq fil-baħar ta’ ħalqek,
u tqarmeċ l-ismijiet u ssoff it-toroq
li jinfdu fil-fewġiet tal-arja mielħa.
Stħajlek taqla’ l-enneżima ċanfira
għax waqqajt farka zokkor fl-art tal-kċina
u int u tgħarraq l-imrar fil-kafè fietel
tiċċassa lejn l-iskorċa blu fit-tieqa.
Stħajjel l-intiena tal-ħalib maħruq
tfakkrek fl-omm li telqitek kontra qalbha
u d-dmugħ maqtugħ li kellek tibqa’ tibla’
biex tiskansa t-togħmiet taċ-ċinturin.
Stħajlek iżżomm b’idejk ma’ tarf is-sink
biex ma tiġġarrafx quddiem il-mistħija
tal-wiċċ abjad karti qed jaħrab ħarstek.
Stħajlek tittawwal fil-bokka ta’ bir,
u tagħlaq għajnejk, u ma ssibx in-nir,
u tiftaħ għajnejk u tara t-twerwir
tal-fatat li kont ħlift li qatt ma ssir.
Stħajlek tigdem ilsienek, idek, fwiedek
biex ma tiżloqx iż-żelqa ta’ missierek.
Stħajlek fanal imsawwat mill-mewġ kiesaħ
tibqa’ xxandar kif tista’ t-tpetpit bati,
tixtieqek vapur minnhom ħa tinkalja
fid-dejl ta’ rdum imxewwek u ħamrani.
Stħajjel l-għeruq mitlufa jrossu m’għonqok.
Stħajlek zokk mimdud bil-friegħi miżbura,
maħkum min-nemel bieżel u l-faqqiegħ.

Jew stħajlek taqla’ għeruqek darba għal dejjem,
stħajlek zokk mimdud u moħfi minn ġewwa
fejn jidħol jorqod tfajjel b’nifsu sielem
jimliek b’ferħ li qatt m’għext jew emmint fih.
Stħajjel rasha tistkenn fil-wied ta’ sidrek,
b’id waħda twennislek is-sinsla mwebbsa
u l-oħra tistrieħ ħafif fuq ix-xehwa
li nsejt li kellek ftit ‘il fuq minn qaddek.
Stħajlek f’qiegħ il-lejl tiskanta ġo qalbek
b’kemm hi iebsa l-imħabba, kemm fraġli l-hena,
u b’wiċċek ġo subgħajk għall-mitt elf darba
terġa’ ssaqsi dan kollu hux vallapena.


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