Erbgħin Jum – it-tnedija – 30.12.17 @ Studio Solipsis


Tnedija tal-ktieb il-ġdid ta’ Antoine Cassar
Mużika ta’ Adolf Formosa, Alex Vella Gera u Mark Abela

Is-Sibt 30 ta’ Diċembru, 7 pm @ Studio Solipsis

Pubblikazzjoni ta’ Ede Books
Illustrazzjonijiet: Steven Scicluna
Disinn: Marco Scerri
Editjar: Immanuel Mifsud

Il-mixi. Attività primordjali tal-bniedem, li kulma jmur qiegħda ssir dejjem iktar eżotika, għad-detriment ta’ saħħitna fiżika u mentali. Għal għonq il-mogħdija, fir-ritmu naturali ta’ passejna ladarba s-saqajn jintelqu għal riħhom, hemm il-gost, hemm katarsi mġissma, hemm opportunità biex inqattru minn ġo fina l-mostri li jgħammru f’demmna, f’tifkirietna, jew fl-istħajjil tagħna. Ċans biex insiru, aktarx, tikka iktar umani.

Wara snin ta’ kitbiet sfużi dwar passaporti, fruntieri u mapep, Erbgħin Jum, ix-xogħol il-ġdid ta’ Antoine Cassar, huwa poeżija tul ta’ ktieb li ddur ‘il ġewwa, pellegrinaġġ brutalment personali fil-kartografija miġnuna tal-passat, mingħajr boxxla jew bastun.

Imqassam f’jiem u ljieli, il-ktieb huwa illustrat bi tmien ‘stazzjonijiet’ minn woodcuts ta’ Steven Scicluna, imnebbħa mill-poeżija nfisha. Il-kapitli ta’ binhar jirrakkuntaw mixja, f’pajsaġġi reali jew metaforiċi, mhux biss bħala eżerċizzju iżda bħala mezz ta’ riflessjoni, tindif tad-demm, trawwim tat-tama, jew sempliċi pjaċir senswali. Bejn mixja u oħra, il-kapitli ta’ billejl, frott l-insomnja, jinterrogaw l-iħirsa tat-tfulija u d-dellijiet li għadhom jixħtu fil-preżent.

Ġenn. Għadab. Paranojja. Iżda wkoll, bil-pass il-pass, il-luċidità, il-fehim, u l-possibbiltà tal-fejqan.

(Forty Days)

To walk. A primal activity which is becoming ever more exotic, to the detriment of our physical and mental health. Along the path, once our legs have settled into their own natural rhythm, there is delight, a full-bodied catharsis, an opportunity to sweat out the monsters that dwell in our blood, in our memory, in our imagination. A chance, perhaps, to become a little more human.

After years of random writings about passports, borders and maps, Erbgħin Jum (Forty Days), Antoine Cassar’s latest work, is a book-length poem that turns inwards, a brutally personal pilgrimage in the crazy cartography of the past, without compass or walking stick.

Erbgħin Jum is split into daytime and nighttime chapters, and is illustrated with eight ‘stations’ from woodcuts by Steven Scicluna, inspired by the work itself. Each daytime chapter narrates a walk, in a landscape real or metaphorical, not as mere exercise but as a means of reflection, a cleansing of the blood, a cultivation of hope, or for the simple, sensual pleasure of movement. Between walks, the nighttime chapters, born of insomnia, interrogate the phantoms of childhood and the shadows they continue to cast in the present.

Madness. Rage. Paranoia. Yet at the same time, each small step leads to lucidity, understanding, and the possibility of healing.

Photo: Ede Books

Photo: Ede Books



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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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