Gżejjer ta’ Diversità Kulturali

Grima, Adrian and MacNeil, Kevin. Gżejjer ta’ diversità kulturali | Islands of cultural diversity. Inizjamed, 2001.

Editur/Editor: Adrian Grima

Disinn tal-qoxra u tal-ktieb/Cover and Book design: Adrian Mamo

Ritratt fuq il-Qoxra/Cover Photogragh: William Azzopardi

Produzzjoni/Production: Adrian Mamo

Ħajr/Thanks: KKU, The British Council

Waħda mill-karatteristiċi ewlenin tan-natura hija d-diversità. Id-diversità hija wkoll il-bażi ta’ l-istabilità ekoloġika. Ekosistemi differenti jwelldu forom tal-ħajja u kulturi differenti, kulturi mżewqa. Din il-koevoluzzjoni tal-kultura, tal-forom tal-ħajja u ta’ l-ambjenti naturali tal-ħlejjaq irnexxielha tħares id-diversità bijoloġika tal-pjaneta. Skont Vandana Shiva d-diversità kulturali u d-diversità bijoloġika jimxu id f`id.

Werrej/Contents

  • Bejn l-Identità u d-Diversità Kulturali – Adrian Grima
  • “L-Indipendenza Vera” – Adrian Grima
  • Kevin MacNeil on Poetry and IdentityKevin MacNeil
  • “Every Month” – Kevin MacNeil
  • “Dead Bedrooms” – Kevin MacNeil
  • “The Room” – Kevin MacNeil

Bejn l-Identità u d-Diversità Kulturali

Adrian Grima

Waħda mill-karatteristiċi tan-natura hija d-diversità. Id-diversità hija wkoll il-bażi ta’ l-istabilità ekoloġika. Ekosistemi differenti jwelldu forom tal-ħajja u kulturi differenti, kulturi mżewqa. Din il-ko-evoluzzjoni tal-kultura, tal-forom tal-ħajja u ta’ l-ambjenti naturali tal-ħlejjaq irnexxielha tħares id-diversità bijoloġika tal-pjaneta. Skond Vandana Shiva d-diversità kulturali u d-diversità bijoloġika jimxu id f’id.

Il-Bijodiversità u d-Diversità Kulturali

Ħafna pajjiżi jqisu l-kultura bħala l-iktar wirt għani tagħhom, wirt li mingħajru ma jkollhomx għeruq, storja jew ruħ. Il-valur tal-kultura mhuwiex monetarju u għaldaqstant, jekk tittrattaha l-kultura bħallikieku kienet xi merkanzija għall-bejgħ tkun qed teqridha. Dawn il-pajjiżi jemmnu li l-kultura mhix sempliċiment prodott ieħor bħall-azzar jew bħall-parts tal-kompjuter, u għalhekk m’għandha tidħol f’ebda ftehim kummerċjali.

Il-kwistjoni dwar il-kultura u l-isforzi tal-liberalizzazzjoni tal-kummerċ biex taħkimha u tarmonizza d-diversità kulturali qiegħda tingħata aktar prominenza. Id-dritt li nipproteġu l-kultura mill-forzi tal-globalizzazzjoni sar importanti daqs il-ġlieda biex nippreservaw il-bijodiversità. Il-gvernijiet u l-popli tad-dinja qegħdin jitħassbu dejjem aktar dwar l-omoġenizzazzjoni kulturali globali li qed twassal biex id-dinja tkun iddominata mill-valuri u l-istili tal-ħajja Amerikani, valuri u stili li qegħdin isiru ta’ kulħadd, jiġu universalizzati, permezz ta’ l-industrija massiva tad-divertiment ta’ l-Istati Uniti. Din l-industrija tħares lejn il-kultura bħala negozju, u negozju kbir ħafna, negozju li għandu jitmexxa ‘l quddiem b’insistenza  qawwija fl-Għaqda Dinjija tal-Kummerċ. L-iktar li jesportaw l-Istati Uniti huma proprja prodotti marbutin mal-kultura popolari Amerikana u maħdumin bil-mass production.

Il-pajjiżi Ewropej ilhom mis-snin għoxrin tas-seklu għoxrin jippruvaw jikkontrollaw il-wiri ta’ films Amerikani fuq l-iskrins tagħhom. Il-Kanada ppruvat tagħmel l-istess. Imma l-industrija Amerikana tal-films wieġbet billi saħħet ir-rabtiet tagħha mad-Dipartiment ta’ l-Istat (il-Ministeru ta’ l-Affarijiet Barranin, biex niftiehmu) u ma’ l-ambaxxati Amerikani. Skond Colin Hines, is-setturi tad-divertiment, tal-media u ta’ l-informatika ta’ l-Istati Uniti ingħaqdu fi front wieħed kbir u organizzat ħafna kontra l-protezzjoni kulturali li qiegħda tintalab ukoll, bil-mod il-mod, mill-pajjiżi tan-Nofsinhar tad-dinja. Kumpanniji bħal Time-Warner u Disney għandhom ħbieb b’saħħithom fuq Capitol Hill u fil-White House u dawn il-ħbieb jintgħażlu bil-għan li l-kumpannija jieħdu dak li jridu.

Ironikament, minkejja li din il-politika ta’ deregulation ġejja mill-korporazzjoni ta’ l-Istati Uniti, il-Gvern Amerikan stess ipproteġa is-settur tax-xandir tiegħu fil-ftehim tan-NAFTA u d-WTO bl-iskuża li dan is-settur huwa “essenzjali għas-sigurtà nazzjonali”.

Colin Hines jemmen li anki fejn tidħol il-kultura jeħtieġ li dawk li jaħdmu fl-oqsma tax-xandir u l-kultura in ġenerali jimpenjaw ruħhom biex “jipproteġu dak li hu lokali b’mod globali”. B’hekk ikunu jistgħu jħarsu s-suq domestiku tagħhom u jaraw li d-diversità kulturali nazzjonali tibqa’ teżisti. Din il-protezzjoni ma tillimitax iċ-ċirkolazzjoni ta’ l-ideat kulturali, iżda trażżan is-saħħa qerrieda li għandhom dawn il-kumpannija transnazzjonali li jmexxu l-mezzi tax-xandir ewlenin tad-dinja.

Ħafna jsostnu li d-diversità kulturali tinsab mhedda mill-globalizzazzjoni. Għal min jemmen li l-wasla tal-MacDonald’s u korporazzjonijiet transnazzjonali oħra f’Malta kienet sinjal tal-progress li qiegħed jagħmel il-pajjiż, il-globalizzazzjoni hija l-ftuħ tal-bibien tal-pajjiżi tad-dinja għall-kummerċ dinja biex minnu jgawdi kulħadd. Iżda għal min, bħal Colin Hines, jemmen li l-globalizzazzjoni hija l-għoti tat-tmexxija tal-kummerċ dinji f’idejn kumpanniji kbar li huma iktar b’saħħithom mill-gvernijiet infushom, illum id-diversità ekoloġika u kulturali li teżisti fid-dinja tinsab mhedda minn ftit nies li għandhom il-poter ekonomiku f’idejhom. Minħabba l-proċess tal-globalizzazzjoni, konsumaturi minn madwar id-dinja qegħdin jiffaċċjaw l-impożizzjoni ta’ monokultura, dik li s-soċjologu ta’ l-ekonomija Tonino Perna iħobb isejħilha l-“MacDonaldizzazzjoni” tad-dinja.

L-istatistika tagħti raġun lil min hu xettiku dwar ir-riżultati pożittivi tal-globalizzazzjoni. Sakemm faqqgħet il-kriżi ekonomika fl-Asja fl-1997, dawk li jemmnu f’din li Hines isejħilha b’mod ironiku “t-teoloġija internazzjonali” tal-globalizzazzjoni kienu jargumentaw li f’dan il-proċess igawdi kulħadd. It-teorija tagħhom tgħid li l-ekonomiji kollha li jieħdu sehem f’dal-proċess tal-globalizzazzjoni jikbru għax il-pajjiżi jispeċjalizzaw f’dak li l-aktar kapaċi jipprovdu u jimportaw il-bqija. Huma jgħidu li għalkemm huwa veru li żdiedet id-differenza bejn min jaqla’ ftit u min jaqla’ ħafna, fl-aħħar mill-aħħar se jgawdi kulħadd għax qed tikber l-ekonomija u l-ġid qed jitqassam waħdu, qisu l-manna, jew il-loqom li jaqgħu minn fuq il-mejda ta’ l-għonja.

Imma mat-tkabbir fil-Prodott Gross Domestiku d-dinja rat żieda fl-inugwaljanza, tnaqqis sistematiku fil-kundizzjonijiet soċjali u ambjentali li fihom jgħixu l-bnedmin u telfien tas-setgħa li kellhom l-istati sovrani, il-gvernijiet lokali u ċ-ċittadini. Il-globalizzazzjoni ġabet aktar tbatija għall-fqar u għan-numru dejjem jikber ta’ nies qiegħda u ta’ nies li jaħdmu f’kundizzjonijiet mhux xierqa jew li mhumiex imħallsin kemm suppost.

Il-Kumitat tal-Ġnus Magħquda dwar il-Kummerċ u l-Iżvilupp isostni li d-differenza dejjem akbar fid-dħul bejn is-sinjuri u l-fqar hija konsegwenza ta’ dan il-proċess ta’ delokalizzazzjoni. Skond l-Għaqda Dinjija tax-Xogħol, fl-aħħar ħames snin tas-seklu 20 terz tan-nies tad-dinja li riedu jaħdmu, jew kienu bla xogħol jew ma kellhomx xogħol xieraq: din hija l-agħar sitwazzjoni mis-snin tletin tas-seklu 20 ‘l hawn. U minkejja dan, dawk li jappoġġjaw il-globalizzazzjoni jkomplu jgħidu li dan il-proċess qed jirnexxi għax qed joħloq il-ġid, li xi darba se jinħoloq biżżejjed ġid biex id-dinja tindirizza l-problemi ambjentali u soċjali li għandha. Barra minn hekk, il-biċċa l-kbira tal-kummentaturi jsostnu li mhemmx alternattiva għal dan il-proċess, konklużjoni li Hines juri bil-fatti li hi għal kollox żbaljata.

Għal dawk li jemmnu fil-lokalizzazzjoni, il-kwistjoni ewlenija hija marbuta mad-drittijiet bażiċi ta’ kull persuna. Jekk il-globalizzazzjoni qiegħda ċċaħħad lin-nies tad-dinja mid-dritt li jiddeċiedu dwar l-ikel tagħhom, dwar l-ilbies, il-kenn, l-edukazzjoni, ix-xogħol u l-kura tas-saħħa; jekk qed iċċaħħadhom mill-kultura tagħhom, minn ambjent nadif, minn servizzi pubbliċi ta’ kwalità, mid-dritt għal sigurtà fiżika u għal ġustizzja li hi ‘l fuq mil-liġi, allura m’għandniex x’nambuha. Fil-qalba ta’ dan l-argument hemm id-dritt tan-nies tad-dinja li jieħdu sehem fid-deċiżjonijiet li jaffettwawlhom ħajjithom u d-dinja li fiha jgħixu huma u se jgħixu wliedhom.

L-ingredjenti ewlenin tal-politika tal-lokalizzazzjoni li jipproponi Colin Hines fil-ktieb tiegħu, Localization: A global Manifesto (Earthscan, 2000) huma marbutin ma’ l-ekonomija iżda jagħtu wkoll idea ta’ dak li jista’ jsir fil-kamp tal-kultura:

  • il-ħarsien ta’ l-ekonomiji nazzjonali u reġjonali mill-importazzjoni ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li jistgħu jinħadmu lokalment;
  • regoli għall-industriji biex jistabbilixxu ruħhom fejn ikunu bi ħsiebhom ibigħu l-prodotti tagħhom;
  • il-lokalizzazzjoni taċ-ċirkolazzjoni tal-flus biex jinbnew mill-ġdid l-ekonomiji tal-komunitajiet;
  • politika dwar il-kompetizzjoni lokali li tara li l-prodotti u s-servizzi jkunu ta’ l-ogħla kwalità;
  • l-introduzzjoni ta’ taxxa fuq ir-riżorsi u taxxi oħra biex tiġi ffinanzjata din it-transizzjoni fundamentali u għalja mill-globalizzazzjoni għal-lokalizzazzjoni, u biex l-ambjent jitħares sew mill-ħsara li tista’ ssirlu;
  • l-involviment tan-nies fit-tmexxija demokratika tas-sistemi ekonomiċi u politiċi lokali;
  • l-għoti ta’ direzzjoni ġdida lill-kummerċ u lill-inizjattivi ta’ għajnuna biex ikunu jistgħu jinbnew mill-ġdid l-ekonomiji lokali, u biex titwarrab il-kompetittività internazzjonali bla bżonn.

Il-kultura u l-ekonomija jaffettwaw ‘il xulxin: ngħidu aħna l-prodotti lokali sikwit huma r-riżultat tal-kultura lokali. Il-lokalizzazzjoni tal-kummerċ u t-tisħiħ tad-diversità kulturali jimxu id f’id.

Identitajiet Kumplessi

Sa ċertu punt, illum kulħadd iħossu qiegħed jgħix f’minoranza, fl-eżilju, fil-periferija, għax il-komunitajiet u l-kulturi kollha jħossu li qegħdin iħabbtu wiċċhom ma’ oħrajn li huma akbar minnhom u li m’għandhomx is-saħħa u l-mezzi biex iħarsu l-wirt tagħhom. L-awtriċi Sud Afrikana Nadine Gordimer (Writing and Being, Harvard University Press, 1995) tirrakkonta kif ħassitha meta kienet żgħira fl-Afrika t’Isfel:

From a very early age I had the sense that that other world – the world of books I took from the library, the world of the cinema – was that other world that was the world. We lived outside it.

Ir-rumanzier Lebaniż li jgħix Franza, Amin Maalouf jemmen li llum, fi żmien maħkum minn globalizzazzjoni ekonomika u kulturali u minn taħlit dejjem aktar mgħaġġel bejn elementi neħtieġu kunċett ġdid ta’ identità. Jekk m’aħniex se naċċettaw il-ħafna rabtiet differenti li nsiġna se nsibu ruħna quddiem żewġ toroq estremi: dik tal-fundamentaliżmu u dik tad-diżintegrazzjoni, li nisfumaw fix-xejn. Irridu nżewġu l-ħtieġa li nħossu li jkollna l-identità tagħna, kemm bħala individwi u kemm bħala membri ta’ komunità ma’ tolleranza miftuħa u nieqsa minn kull preġudizzju ta’ kulturi oħra.

Qed ngħixu fi żmien meta ħafna telqu minn art twelidhom u ħafna oħrajn, minkejja li ma telqux, ma jistgħux jidentifikaw ruħhom magħha aktar. Dan, skond Maalouf, jista’ jkun minħabba li r-ruħ tal-bniedem dejjem vagabonda, refuġjata, iżda jista’ jkun ukoll minħabba l-pass dejjem aktar mgħaġġel ta’ l-evoluzzjoni. Qed ngħixu fi żmien ta’ armonizzazzjoni u fl-istess ħin ta’ dissonanza. Il-bnedmin qatt ma kellhom tant affarijiet in komuni bejniethom – għarfien, punti ta’ riferiment, xbihat, kliem, strumenti u għodda ta’ kull tip. Imma dan qed jispiċċa jżid ix-xewqa tal-bnedmin li jasserixxu d-differenzi li jeżistu bejniethom. Il-ħeffa dejjem akbar tal-globalizzazzjoni żgur li ssaħħaħ, permezz ta’ reazzjoni, il-ħtieġa tan-nies għall-identità li tagħżilhom minn ħaddieħor. Forsi l-iktar definizzjoni sempliċi hi li l-identità hija dik li tagħmilni differenti minn ħaddieħor. Lanqas jekk allaħares qatt jibdew jikklonaw in-nies, dawn xorta, kif jitwieldu, jibdew isiru differenti minn ħaddieħor.

Skond Maalouf id-dinja tal-lum mhix ta’ xi ġens jew ta’ xi pajjiż partikulari hija ta’ min iħabrek biex jifhem ir-regoli l-ġodda tal-logħba. Mhux veru li d-dinja hija mmexxija minn setgħat moħbija u omnipotenti; mhix immexxija mill-“oħrajn”. Naturalment il-pass u l-iskala/firxa tal-globalizzazzjoni jġegħluk tistordi u tħoss li ma tistax tinfluwenza l-ġrajjiet. Iżda Maalouf jemmen li għandna nfakkru lilna nfusna kontinwament li ħafna nies iħossuhom bħalna, anki dawk li qegħdin fil-quċċata tal-piramida. Eżempju li jagħti huwa dak tal-mużika: Qatt daqs illum ma kellna l-mezzi tekniċi biex nisimgħu tant tipi ta’ mużika differenti. Qatt qabel ma kien hawn tant nies li jistgħu jdoqqu, jikkomponu, ikantaw – u jinstemgħu. Iżda b’xorti ħażina dawn l-opportunitajiet mhumiex f’idejn kulħadd. Il-maġġoranza tan-nies tad-dinja huma mmexxija minn minoranza żgħira. U f’idejn din il-minoranza hemm l-istazzjonijiet tat-televiżjoni, ir-radjijiet, id-djar tad-diski, il-paġni kulturali u mużikali tal-gazzetti u r-rivisti, u l-bqija. Barra minn hekk ftit ħafna huma dawk li għandhom aċċess għal mezz qawwi ta’ komunikazzjoni bħalm’hu l-kompjuter.

Min-naħa l-oħra, Maalouf jirrikonoxxi l-fatt li l-globalizzazzjoni qiegħda thedded id-diversità kulturali, speċjalment id-diversità fil-lingwi u fil-mod kif ngħixu. “Human communities that over the course of history have forged an original culture made up of a thousand and one inventions – relating to clothes, medicine, art, music, gestures, crafts, cooking, story-telling, and so on – are threatened with loss of their land, their language, their memory, their knowledge, their special identity and their dignity.” U t-theddida hija akbar milli qatt kienet. Iżda jemmen ukoll li qatt daqs illum ma kien hawn il-mezzi biex kulturi li qegħdin imutu jiddefendu lilhom infushom. “Instead of declining and disappearing unnoticed and unlamented as they have done for centuries, these cultures can now fight for survival. Would it not be absurd to neglect this opportunity?”

Kontra dak naħsbu ħafna minna, Amin Maalouf isostni li l-identità tagħna kemm bħala individwi u kemm bħala ġnus hija kumplessa ħafna. Għandna ħabta nfittxu l-għerq tal-kultura tagħna; għandna ħabta norbtu ħaġa jew oħra ma’ l-hekk imsejħa “qalba”, jew “mamma” ta’ l-identità tagħna: il-lingwa, il-kant tradizzjonali, il-pożizzjoni ġeografika fil-Mediterran, ir-rabtiet tagħna mal-Kristjaneżmu u ma’ l-Ewropa Nisranija, il-pastizzi, is-soppa ta’ l-armla, il-ħobż biż-żejt… imma l-verità hi li l-identità tagħna hija magħmula minn dawn l-elementi kollha u ħafna oħrajn, u din l-identità qiegħda l-ħin kollu tinbidel u tissawwar mill-ġdid. Minkejja li għex l-ewwel sebgħa u għoxrin sena ta’ ħajtu fil-Libanu u mbagħad tnejn u għoxrin sena ġewwa Franza, Amin Maalouf ma jħossx li hu nofsu Lebaniż u nofsu Franċiż, għax l-identità ma tistax tikkompartimentalizzaha. Hu jħoss li għandu identità waħda, magħmula minn ħafna komponenti magħuqdin flimkien b’tali mod li jsawru taħlita li hi unika, bħalm’hi unika l-identità ta’ kull persuna.

L-identità individwali tagħna m’għandniex nimmażżrawha ma’ xi waħda mill-affiljazzjonijiet tagħna. Fil-qalba ta’ qalbna mhemmx element wieħed li jiddomina fuq l-identità personali tagħna, qisu xi “verità fundamentali” jew “essenza” li nirċievu meta nitwieldu u li tibqa’ taħkimna u tmexxina tul ħajjitna kollha. Hekk ukoll l-identità ta’ poplu li hi bil-wisq iktar dinamika milli naħsbu. “F’kull persuna jiltaqgħu ħafna lealtajiet differenti, u kultant dawn il-lealtajiet ma jaqblux ma’ xulxin u jqiegħdu lill-persuna li fiha jiltaqgħu fil-pożízzjoni li trid tagħmel għażliet diffiċli.” Ħafna drabi, aħna stess, mingħajr ma nafu, nippromwovu l-idea li l-identità hija marbuta ma’ affiljazzjoni waħda, ma’ razza, grupp etniku, jew reliġjon, jew nazzjon, jew lingwa, jew klassi waħda.

“Il-ħajja stess toħloq id-differenzi. Ebda “riproduzzjoni” ma tista’ tkun identika. Kull persuna għandha identità mżewqa, kumplessa u unika. Kull waħda mil-lealtajiet ta’ dik il-persuna tgħaqqadha ma’ għadd kbir ta’ nies. Imma ironikament iktar ma tibni rabtiet ma’ nies differenti, iktar issir partikulari u rari l-identità tagħha mingħajr ma titlef xejn mis-sħuħija li tgħaqqadha.

L-affiljazzjonijiet ta’ pajjiż m’għandhomx kollha l-istess importanza imma Maalouf jemmen li pajjiż għandu jaċċetta l-multipliċità tal-lealtajiet u jqishom kollha bħala leġittimi. Ngħidu aħna f’Malta, it-tradizzjoni reliġjuża ewlenija hija Kattolika, imma dan ma jfissirx li m’għandniex nagħrfu realtajiet oħrajn, fosthom il-preżenza matul iż-żminijiet ta’ reliġjonijiet oħra u anki ta’ nies li ma jemmnu f’ebda reliġjon. Jekk norbtu l-identità tagħna bħala Maltin mal-Kattoliċiżmu biss inkunu qegħdin ninjoraw rabtiet oħrajn, kemm antiki u kemm ġodda, fosthom mal-perijodu Neolitika, ma’ l-Islam u ma’ għażliet ‘il barra mir-reliġjon, u b’dan il-mod inkunu qegħdin inwarrbu dan il-wirt u lil kulmin min jidentifika ruħu miegħu. Bħalma fil-lingwa Maltija jiltaqgħu diversi elementi differenti hekk ukoll fina bħala Maltin jiltaqgħu elementi li la qegħdin hemm irridu nagħrfuhom u naċċettawhom.

Għalkemm teżisti ġerarkija bejn l-elementi differenti li flimkien isawru l-identità tagħna, din il-ġerarkija tinbidel maż-żmien, u dan it-tibdil fl-importanza li nagħtu lill-elementi differenti jġib tibdil fundamentali fl-imġiba tagħna. Kien hemm żminijiet meta r-reliġjon Kattolika kienet is-simbolu ewlieni ta’ l-identità tal-Maltin, bħalma jidher li kienet fi żmien il-Franċiżi. Kien hemm żmien meta l-lingwa kienet is-simbolu ewlieni, aktarx fl-ewwel għexieren ta’ snin tas-seklu għoxrin. Kien hemm żmien, u forsi għadu ma spiċċax, meta identifikajna l-identità Maltija mal-kampanja u l-bdiewa.

Kien hemm ukoll żmien meta Malta kienet tagħmel parti mis-saltna u l-kultura Islamika meta kienu fl-aqwa tagħhom. Meta niċħdu din ir-rabta antika imma glorjuża nkunu qegħdin niċħdu biċċa minna nfusna. Mill-bidunett, il-Musulmani kellhom il-ħila ta’ l-għaġeb li jgħixu ma’ min hu differenti minnhom. Fl-aħħar tas-seklu 19, ngħidu aħna, fil-popolazzjoni ta’ Istanbul, li dak iż-żmien kienet il-belt Musulmana ewlenija, il-maġġoranza tan-nies ma kinux Musulmani, imma Griegi, Armeni u Lhud. Pariġi, Londra, Vjenna jew Berlin ta’ dak iż-żmien żgur li ma kinux joħolmu li jkollhom iktar minn nofs il-popolazzjoni tagħhom mhux Nisranija. Kif tgħid il-kittieba Lebaniża Hoda Barakat u l-Alġerin Waciny Larej, għal żmien twil, Lixandra, fejn għexu ħafna Maltin, Bejrut, u l-Alġiers kienu bliet kosmopolitani, miftuħin, imsejsin fuq id-diversità.

Ir-rabtiet antiki tagħna mal-portijiet u l-bliet Għarab tal-Mediterran huma affiljazzjonijiet li jagħmlu l-identità aktar sinjura. Imma biex nirkupraw dawn l-affiljazzjonijiet importanti rridu nivvjaġġaw fl-istorja mħawra tagħna u ma narawx biss il-piraterija u l-irjus ta’ l-għadu fil-bokka tal-kanun. Wara kollox l-istorja ta’ Malta u l-istorja tal-Mediterran huma ddominati minn skambji kulturali, ekonomiċi u soċjali kbar, u l-identità mżewqa tagħna hija l-prodott, fost l-oħrajn, ta’ dan it-taħlit li seħħ u għadu jseħħ fir-reġjun tagħna. Fl-aħħar mill-aħħar l-identità hija kwistjoni ta’ simboli, ta’ apparenzi, ta’ diskors, u biex dan id-diskors ikun jirrifletti l-vjaġġ tagħna bħala poplu jrid jirrispetta l-ġrajjiet li seħħew u r-rabtiet li nbnew u jirrakkontahom b’tali mod li jeħlishom mill-preġudizzji u l-perspettivi żbaljati tal-lum. F’dan il-kuntest, l-istejjer ta’ Ġaħan jafu jkunu għodda tajba biex jinħoloq diskors ġdid dwar l-identità Maltija.

Wirt Vertikali u Wirt Orizzontali

Amin Maalouf isostni li hemm baħar jaqsam bejn dak li aħna u dak li naħsbu li aħna. Il-bnedmin għandhom għandhom żewġ tipi ta’ wirt, dak vertikali u dak orizzontali. Il-wirt vertikali jasal għandna mingħand l-antenati tagħna, mingħand il-komunità reliġjuża u permezz tat-tradizzjonijiet popolari; il-wirt orizzontali jaslilna mingħand in-nies u ż-żmien li nkunu qed ngħixu fih. Bħal Marc Bloch, Maalouf jemmen li l-wirt orizzontali huwa l-iktar wieħed li jinfluwenza lill-bnedmin u iktar ma jgħaddi ż-żmien iktar qed isir influwenti. Iżda l-importanza akbar tal-wirt orizzontali ma tidhirx fil-mod kif il-bnedmin iħarsu jew jitkellmu dwarhom nfushom għax kważi dejjem jagħtu prominenza lill-wirt orizzontali. Naħseb li dan, fil-każ tal-Maltin, ma jgħoddx sa barra, għaliex il-ġenerazzjonijiet ta’ wara l-Indipendenza nqatgħu ħafna mill-wirt vertikali, jew il-memorja tal-Maltin, u għaldaqstant inħoss li waħda mill-affarijiet li jeħtieġ li nagħmlu b’konvinzjoni imma minnufih hija proprju li nirrikostruwixxu l-memorja/i tagħna bħala Maltin. Maalouf jemmen li t-tradizzjonijiet jistħoqqilhom ir-rispett tagħna biss jekk jirrispettaw il-jeddijiet fundamentali tal-bnedmin. Il-kultura patrijarkali hija parti mill-identità tagħna u tinħass fit-tradizzjonijiet li għandna, iżda żgur li mhix kultura li għandna nqiegħdu quddiem il-Maltin bħala mudell għal żmienna. Din hija kultura li jistħoqqilha l-għarfien kritiku tagħna, imma ma jistħoqqilha ebda appoġġ. Id-diskors ta’ Maalouf huwa ċar ħafna:

Everything that has to do with fundamental rights – the right to live as a full citizen on the soil of one’s fathers, free of persecution or discrimination; the right to live with dignity anywhere; the right to choose one’s life and loves and beliefs freely, while respecting the freedom of others; the right of free access to knowledge, health and a decent and honourable life – none of this, and the list is not exhaustive, may be denied to our fellow human beings on the pretext of preserving a belief, an ancestral practice or a tradition.

Naturalment irridu nirrispettaw l-individwalità ta’ kull ċivilità, imma dejjem skond iċ-ċirkostanzi u b’ċerta “luċidità”. Fil-“ġlieda” tagħna favur ċerti tradizzjonijiet kulturali jrid ikollna viżjoni ċara, rigoruża, għaqlija, la sensittiva żżejjed u lanqas beżgħana żżejjed, viżjoni dejjem miftuħa għall-futur.

Il-Lingwa u l-Identità

Il-lingwa hija waħda mill-affiljazzjonijiet l-aktar influwenti fejn tidħol id-definizzjoni ta’ kultura jew identità. Waħda mill-isbaħ affarijiet dwar il-lingwa hija proprju l-fatt li hija mezz ta’ komunikazzjoni u fl-istess ħin parti integrali mill-identità. Kontra dak li jargumenta dwar ir-reliġjon, li hu jixtieq jaraha tinħeles mir-rabta mal-ħtieġa ta’ appartenenza, Maalouf jemmen li l-lingwa la tista’ u lanqas għandha tinfired mill-identità għax hija l-għajn ewlenija ta’ l-identità kulturali u d-diversità lingwistika hija l-għajn ewlenija tad-diversitajiet l-oħra kollha.

Fuq ir-rwol tal-kitba kreattiva fit-tisħiħ tal-lingwa b’rabta ma’ l-identità, Julia Kristeva (Nations Without Nationalism, Columbia University Press, 1993), tikteb hekk: “To write in French, to write a fiction in French, as I have done with The Samurai and The Old Man and the Wolves, is at the same time an acknowledgement of the fact that a nation (the French one) is a language act and an attempt to inscribe on it other sensitivities, other experiences, and strangenesses apt to extend its pursuit of universality.”

Amin Maalouf jagħti l-eżempju interessanti ta’ l-Islandiż biex jitkellem dwar ir-rwol tal-lingwa fit-tkattir tad-diversità kulturali. L-Islandiż huwa lsien li jitkellmuh inqas minn tliet mitt elf persuna. L-Islaniżi kollha jitkellmu l-lingwa tagħhom bejniethom u meta jitħaddtu mal-barranin aktarx jinqdew bl-Ingliż. Kull lingwa donnu għandha l-ispazju ċar tagħha. M’hemm ebda rivalità bejniethom, la esterna (għax l-Islandiż qatt ma ntuża fil-komunikazzjoni internazzjonali) u lanqas intern, għax ebda omm jew missier ma joħolmu li jkellmu lil uliedhom bl-Ingliż.

Fejn jidħol il-kamp vast ta’ l-aċċess għall-għarfien, l-Islanda tinvesti flejjes kbar fit-traduzzjoni ta’ testi barranin għall-Islandiż, għax jekk ma tagħmilx hekk, il-lingwa indiġena tispiċċa tinbela’ minn forzi tas-suq li huma akbar minnha u tispiċċa tintuża fid-dar biss. Maalouf jemmen li biex jibqa’ lsien fis-sens sħiħ tal-kelma, l-Islandiż irid jinvolvi lil kulħadd fit-tisħiħ ta’ l-ilsien nazzjonali u fl-istess ħin ikattar ir-rabtiet tiegħu ma’ ilsna oħra.

Kważi l-websites kollha ta’ l-Islandiżi huma bl-Islandiż, u ħafna minnhom għandhom verżjoni bl-Ingliż. Hemm numru li joffru wkoll lingwa oħra, normalment jew id-Daniż jew il-Ġermaniż. Għalkemm l-Ingliż, ilsien li jitkellmuh xi 10% tan-nies tad-dinja, jaqdina f’ħafna oqsma, ma jaqdiniex fejn tidħol l-identità. Il-Malti huwa mera tal-vjaġġ kollettiv li għamlu u qegħdin jagħmlu l-Maltin u ebda lsien ieħor ma jista’ joffrilna din ir-rikkezza u din l-għodda partikulari. Jeħtieġ li n-nies ifasslu l-modernità tagħhom, u mhux dejjem iħossu li qegħdin jissellfuha mingħand ħaddieħor.

Maalouf jemmen li llum il-ġurnata, il-lingwa ta’ l-identità (l-ewwel lingwa) u l-Ingliż, il-lingwa globali (it-tielet lingwa) m’għadhomx biżżejjed.

It seems to me that, contrary to what appearances may seem to suggest, we would be acting against the spirit of our age if we restricted ourselves to just the minimum number of languages regarded as absolutely necessary. Between the language of identity and the global language there stretches a vast space that we must learn how to bridge.

Bejn il-lingwa materna u l-lingwa globali hemm it-tieni lingwa, li l-persuna tagħżilha minn jeddha. Din tkun il-lingwa barranija ewlenija li tiġi mgħallma fl-iskola, imma tkun ukoll ħafna iktar minn hekk: “il-lingwa tal-qalb, il-lingwa ta’ l-adozzjoni, il-lingwa li tiżżewweġ, il-lingwa li tħobb”.

Permezz ta’ dawn il-miżuri Maalouf jemmen li nistgħu nużaw l-espansjoni

inkredibbli li qed iseħħ fil-komunikazzjoni biex minflok niftaqru nistagħnew.

Konklużjoni

U hawn jidħol Ġaħan.

Leonardo Sciascia, ir-rumanzier Sqalli mir-raħal ta’ Racalmuto fil-provinċja ta’ Agrigento, jirrakkonta li meta kien għadu tifel, kienu jiltaqgħu t-tfal u n-nisa tal-post biex jiddiskutu l-ġrajjiet tar-raħal u jirrakkontaw ħrejjef u stejjer antiki. Fost in-nisa kien hemm mara li kulħadd kien iqisha bħala narratriċi tajba għax kienet “taf tirrakkonta”, għax il-“fatt” mhu xejn jekk ma tkunx taf tirrakkontah. Fl-aħħar, wara r-rakkonti tal-biża’ li kienu jqajmu ġisem it-tfal xewk xewk, in-narratriċi kienet tirrakkonta storja ta’ Ġaħan biex l-atmosfera ma tibqax maħkuma mill-biża’. Iktar tard, meta Sciascia beda jmur jara l-films fit-teatru l-antik li darbtejn fil-ġimgħa kien jinbidel f’ċinema, wara l-film drammatiku li jqabbiżlek id-dmugħ, kien ikun hemm il-“final komiku”, il-”farsa” ta’ Charlot, Harold Lloyd, jew Ridolini.

Ġaħan huwa persunaġġ importanti li jorbotna mat-taħlit li seħħ u ma’ l-istorja tal-Mediterran u jixhed is-sehem importanti tagħna f’dawn l-iskambji. Giufà ta’ Sqallija, Ġuħâ tad-dinja Għarbija, Nasreddin Hoca tat-Turkija u persunaġġi oħrajn huma “verżjonijiet” lokali ta’ l-istess persunaġġ. Ġaħan huwa wkoll eżempju “ħaj” ta’ l-għarfien superfiċjali u sikwit żbaljat li għandna ta’ gżiritna u l-wirt għani tagħha. Ġaħan ma kienx sempliċiment il-baħnan li sikwit nassoċjawh miegħu f’Malta llum. Kif jgħid l-isem ta’ waħda mill-edizzjonijiet ta’ ktieb editjat minn Francesca Maria Corrao b’daħla ta’ Leonardo Sciascia Ġaħan huwa “l-makakk, il-baħnan, u l-għaref” (Giufà: Il-Furbo, Lo Sciocco, Il Saggio,Oscar Mondadori, 1991). Ħafna drabi l-istejjer tiegħu huma mibnijin fuq il-lingwa, fuq interpretazzjoni leġittima, imma fil-kuntest żbaljata tal-kliem. Barra minn hekk, is-suċċess tar-rakkont stess jiddependi mill-użu effettiv tal-lingwa (u t-teatralità) u għaldaqstant, Ġaħan ilaqqa’ flimkien għadd ta’ elementi li jinteressawni meta nkunu qegħdin nitkellmu dwar l-identità u d-diversità kulturali ta’ Malta.

F’waħda mill-ħrejjef ta’ Ġaħan kif rakkontati minn Ġorġ Mifsud-Chircop (Ġaħan u Ħrejjef Oħra, PEG, 1992), l-għedewwa ta’ Ġaħan jaqbduh ġo xkora u jaqtgħuha li jitfgħuh il-baħar fejn hu fond. Imma waqt li qed jieklu f’ħanut, Ġaħan jibda jgħajjat, “Jien ma rridx niżżewweġ lill-prinċipessa.” Dak il-ħin kien għaddej ragħaj fqajjar li malli semgħu jgħid hekk, ħalla l-merħla u resaq lejn l-ixkora. “Jiena imma rrid niżżewwiġha lill-prinċipessa,” qal lil Ġaħan, u dak kien pront qallu biex jidħol fl-ixkora minfloku. U b’dan il-mod tassew daħħlu fl-ixkora għax ħadlu l-merħla u baqa’ sejjer biha lejn id-dar, waqt li r-ragħaj spiċċa f’qiegħ il-baħar.

Meta nsemmi lil Ġaħan qiegħed inqabbad ukoll id-diskors dwar l-identità u d-diversità kulturali ma’ l-istorja. Maalouf isostni li l-istorja ta’ pajjiż, b’dak kollu li fiha, trid tiġi rispettata.

It is not synonymous with empty nostalgia or indiscrimate worship of the past. On the contrary, it stands for all that has been built up over the centuries: memory, symbols, institutions, language, works of art, and all the other things to which one may legitimately be attached.

Fl-istess ħin, kulħadd jammetti li l-ġejjieni ta’ pajjiż ma jistax ikun sempliċiment tkomplija ta’ l-imgħoddi. Filwaqt li l-ġejjieni jrid jinbena fi spirtu ta’ tkomplija jrid jiġbor fih ukoll tibdiliet mill-qiegħ, flimkien ma’ kontributi sinjifikattivi minn bnadi oħra, kif seħħ fl-aqwa epoki kollha ta’ l-imgħoddi.

Maalouf jemmen li l-futur tagħna jiddependi ħafna minna, mill-mod kif nużaw il-globalizzazzjoni biex nilħqu l-għan tagħna li nsaħħu d-diversità kulturali. Filwaqt li l-mezzi l-ġodda tal-komunikazzjoni se jressquni malajr lejn xulxin u bħala reazzjoni jenfasizzaw id-differenzi ta’ bejnietna, se jagħmluna wkoll konxji tad-destin komuni tagħna. Forsi b’dan il-mod tista’ toħroġ perspettiva ġdida ta’ l-identità bħala t-tlaqqigħ tal-lealtajiet kollha tagħna, u fi ħdanha, tissaħħaħ il-lealtà tagħna lejn il-komunità tal-bnedmin.

Bħall-identità ta’ kull persuna, Ġaħan għandu l-identità kumplessa tiegħu li tlaqqa’ flimkien elementi li normalment ma nqegħduhomx flimkien: il-makakk, il-baħnan u l-għaref. U bħal Malta, l-identità tiegħu hija marbuta, fost l-oħrajn, ma’ reġjun li ħafna drabi f’Malta jew ninjorawh, bħallikieku l-gżejjer tagħna qegħdin xi mkien ieħor, jew inħarsu lejh u nitkellmu fuqu b’mod superfiċjali. Barra minn hekk, Ġaħan jinteressana għax, kif tgħid Corrao, joħloq kriżi fl-ordni stabbilit. Fi ħrafa oħra rrakkontata minn Ġorġ Mifsud Chircop, Ġaħan joħodha kontra l-ġgant Gulija u jirbaħlu bil-makakkerija, bil-ħeffa tal-ħsieb. Il-ġgant li kien jibża’ minnu kulħadd issa joqgħod għall-kliem ta’ Ġaħan. ”Ġuħâ agisce sempre secondo la logica del capovolgimento, operando continue trasgressioni.” U f’dan is-sens huwa simbolu tajjeb tad-diversità li trid tegħleb l-ordni li trid timponi fuqna dinja globalizzata mmexxija minn ftit nies li għandhom f’idejhom il-mezzi tal-komunikazzjoni u l-kummerċ dinji. Ġaħan, fil-“periferija” ta’ belt globali, daqqa jidħaq bin-nies u daqqa jdaħħaq in-nies bih, imma dejjem uniku, differenti.


Kevin MacNeil on Poetry and Identity

Interview by Adrian Grima

Kevin MacNeil (in Gaelic Caoimhin MacNèill) was born on the Outer Hebridean island of Lewis (Scotland) and is a widely published writer of poetry, prose and drama (English and Gaelic). He was educated at the Nicolson Institute, University of Edinburgh and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig. He is the first person from this country to win the prestigious Tivoli Europa Giovani International Poetry Prize with his book Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides (Canongate, 1998) and is currently living on the Isle of Skye, where he is employed as the inaugural Iain Crichton Smith Writing Fellow (writer in residence for the Highlands area of Scotland).

Adrian Grima invited Kevin MacNeil to Malta when they met in Rome in June 2000. He is being brought to Malta by Inizjamed in collaboration with the British Council.

  • Kevin: You write both in Scots Gaelic and in English. Whose English is it? The British, the North Americans’, the Scots’, everyone’s?
Kevin MacNeil and Adrian Grima in Tivoli, Rome

The linguistic issue is an important and a complicated one. My initial instinct is to say that the language I write is mine: after all, these are my chosen words placed in my chosen order. However, once a poem is published it becomes (I firmly believe this) public property, for people to interpret in any manner they see fit. It does not matter that these words and their meanings were originally very personal – painful, even. I believe in the right of every individual to interpret any text in any way they wish. I sometimes write phonetically in my own (minority) accent, sometimes using very local Lewis slang words that do not appear in any dictionary. But even these words, when glossarised, belong to everyone. I write, therefore, initially as an individual, secondly as an islander, thirdly as a Gàidheal, fourthly as a Scotsman and finally – perhaps most importantly – as a citizen of the world. The fact that my writing has given me the opportunity to share my poems with people from a number of different countries proves that my poetry (whether in Gaelic or in English) is not just mine: it belongs to everybody. This is one of the magical aspects of writing that I cherish.

  • What are the words you would instinctively associate with “islands”?

Sea, independence, nature, resilience, introspection, tradition…and duality.

  • In Malta you will be taking part in a project called “Islands”. You travelled widely and you’ve seen all sorts of “islands”. But what does it mean to live on a (small) island? Do you feel different as an islander?

Certainly, an island uprbringing gives one a sense of being different. The Outer Hebrides are often described as being on the “fringes” or on the “periphery” of Europe. The islands are seen as being wild, far-flung, sometimes even romantic places. But I find the (externally imposed) idea of being on the edge of things somewhat patronising. To offer a quotation from my latest book: “Where you are is never the periphery”.

  • What are the Hebrides to you? Do you see yourself living there for the rest of your life?

The Outer Hebrides mean a great deal to me. Wherever I go, wherever I live, the Hebrides will always be my true home. But no, I do not see myself living here forever. As with many small islands, job prospects are few. The economy of these islands is very brittle indeed. In any case, I love travelling and would like to settle in another country for a couple of years or so. I think it does a person good to travel, to meet new people, experience new cultures. It widens and deepens the mind. I am very grateful indeed that poetry has granted me the opportunity to travel and therefore to learn more about the world by sharing time with people from diverse backgrounds.

  • In your introduction to Wish I Was Here, you talk of yourself, amongst other things, as a “Gàidhlig-speaker (and therefore a member of an eroded minority)”, as a “Gàidheal exiled in an alien city, as a Gàidheal whose education was biased towards non-Gàidhlig cultures,” as a “person who felt the need to externalise the contingencies and contradictions of living in a place in which I did and did not feel a sense of belonging, as a person with the need to sew up all these deepening wounds with a pen.”

Gaels belong to an invisible minority, a minority group whose persecution over the last few centuries has resulted in a sorely diminished contemporary culture. The Gàidhlig (Gaelic) language, once spoken in almost every part of Scotland, is now spoken by around 60,000 people. And when a language dies, so does a worldview. It is a sorry situation. When I think of what we have lost…it is almost mind-breaking.

  • Is the “cultural clash of the traditional and the contemporary” inevitable? Is it important, productive, creative?

Yes, I think it is inevitable – and crucial. I am intrigued by the possibilities of combining traditional aspects of culture with modern art forms – for example, I have a band Tomorrowscope who accompany my readings with a very modern trip-hop style of music. I hope this serves a dual purpose: it makes poetry more accessible to music fans and it attracts poetry fans to a contemporary style of music.

  • Later on you conclude, “There is no Scotland, I began more fully to comprehend. There are Scotlands.”

Yes – partly because of my zen understanding, I am a very open-minded person. I love the zen notion of many reflections coming from the one moon. Scotland might be a relatively small country, but it is an extremely diverse country. I remember meeting a charming old African-American man at JFK airport, New York, last year. We chatted for a while before he floored me with this statement: “But there are no black people in Scotland.” Luckily, I had a few books with me, such as Wish I Was Here, to prove to him otherwise. I was able to widen his views about as country he had never visited, a country that is often misrepresented in other peoples’ minds. Whether this misrepresentation is the fault of the media, or a general human compunction to simplify by stereotyping, or whether it is the fault of the Scots because of the way they sell themselves, I do no know.

But I do know that living in the past – a world of Brigadoon and Braveheart – is dangerous.

  • The inevitable, predictable question: do you think that “cultural globalization” is a myth? Where do you see yourself in relation to it?

I don’t think that ‘cultural globalization’ is a myth as much as a danger. The worry that one day people in cities all over the world will be eating the same burger, reading the same lifestyle book, wearing the same brand of clothing and speaking the same slanguage is terrifying. Global culture comprises a vast multi-coloured spectrum: the thought that it should be eclipsed by a single shadowy power is heartbreaking. We should celebrate unity-in-diversity, not unity-in-conformity.

I see myself as respecting – and learning from – other cultures, while simultaneously attempting to do my best to preserve and nurture my own culture. If a single culture is represented by a hand, then cultures should hold hands with one another, instead of arm wrestling.

  • From Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides (translated from the original in Gaelic): “My neighbour. He’s a tory. There’s a sticker on his car: Free Tibet Now. He doesn’t like the Gaelic programmes. Money for a dead language. They all speak English anyhow. The great wheel turns in his breast as a spade in the dirt. Something grows there, hard, like the lines on a peasant’s face, certain, like a red bomb ticking in a Tibetan monastery in the middle of his sleep, an inscrutable gravity crumbling slowly between them.” Are the engaged cultural activist and the poet supposed to meet (in the same person)?

This is a question that has intrigued me for a long time. I’m still wrestling with it. Should a poet write about political issues in order to attempt to overturn the injustices of the world? Or should a poet write only about those subjects which arrive, irresistibly, with lightning-force in his or her mind? Is there a danger of indulging in mere rhetoric when confronting political issues? Is a poet neglecting his or her duty by writing only about their personal lives and feelings?

I am still struggling with this question. A great many political poems leave me cold. I find a disproportionately high quantity of political poetry disappointing, rhetorical, unconvincing. And yet…and yet…sometimes a poet like Pablo Neruda emerges, whose love poetry and whose political poetry sets the world on fire, sets the world turning at a new, crazy-adventurous angle.

There are people in Scotland – including Gaelic-speakers and non-Gaelic-speakers – who insist that writing in Gaelic is in itself a political act.

I think, now, on reflection, that the reason I have written very few overtly political poems is that I discern a parallel here between the duty of the poet and the duty of the Buddhist. There is a strand of Buddhists who call themselves engaged Buddhists – this means that they go out into the world caring for the needy, feeding the hungry, staging political demonstrations – basically practising a very pro-active form of Buddhism. This, I think, can be both worthwhile and dangerous. Buddha himself taught that the most important thing is meditation – meditation is an active way of doing good to all sentient beings. I believe this profoundly, and indeed have seen it prove itself true. Meditation is a constant grounding, whereas political ideology comes and goes in waves – some waves are relaxing and some are life-threatening. One of the Dalai Lama’s brothers recently said: ‘The Chinese only understand the language of violence, so why not give it a shot?’ This is what I mean when I say that politics can be dangerous. I am a pacifist and I am someone who understands the power of language, the power of words….the power of poetry. What I mean is that poets, when writing, ought to be: honest but mindful, passionate but disciplined, absorbed but compassionate . Only then can the poet stand back from his or her work and look on it with an unegotistical satisfaction, with the feeling of a task completed with worthwhile attainment and lasting humility.

  • “Scotland,” you write, “is multiform and glittering with exquisite, melodious, hard-edged poetry, poetry that is allowing the country’s three-dimensional map to sparkle in a new and penetrating light. Literary images, human correspondences, cross-cultural bridges are being constructed that shine and dazzle and overarch the old conceptions like a rainbow among the bare hills of clouds.” Is this the Scotland, the artistic movement you feel and want to feel part of?

Yes and no! Yes, I’m proud – very proud indeed – that Scotland has such a rich literary heritage and that this tradition is being carried through into the 21st century. On the other hand, there is a danger, in relatively small countries, of the literary tradition becoming too insular, too claustrophobic. There is the danger that new writers will be so overlty influenced by their predecessors that they engender a kind of incest. The danger is that a country’s literature becomes too homogenised, too self-referential. I like to be open to other influences. I try to add to, rather than rely on, my literary tradition. This, I believe, is crucial.

  • Do you feel the pressure of having to write to justify your position as “writer in residence”? How do you deal with this pressure? Can you see the reactions of the people you know will read your work as you jot your words down?

In my capacity as writer in residence, I have spent a great deal more time encouraging other writers than doing my own writing. This is both satisfying and frustrating. I love watching people’s writing skills develop under my tutelage. I feel that I have been very lucky indeed in my own writing career and I love showing people that if they really want to be a writer they CAN do it – I am living proof of that. I was determined to be a writer from a young age. The fact that I now make my living from writing is ample evidence that if I can do it ANYONE can do it! The pressure can be enormous – I’m writer-in-residence of what is probably one of the largest areas of any writer-in-residence in Europe. This means that my workload is sometimes almost overwhelming and I do get frustrated –  there simply aren’t enough hours in the day! I have a novel (long overdue) to complete and I am desperate to finish it. But this frustration is tempered by the pride I feel at being the first recipient of the Iain Crichton Smith Writing Fellowship, which was named after one of the best Twentieth Century writers Scotland – or any other country – produced. I try not to worry about how people will react to my writings. I write, first of all, with a sense of authenticity and integrity, plus a desire to do my best. If I do my best then I need not worry about what people think of my writing. The important thing is that I do my best. All of the bonuses – prizes, honours and awards – that my writing has brought me have been as unexpected as they were humbling. I live by my writing, and I crave a poetry that bleeds authenticity.

  • After days of readings, visits, interviews, travelling all over the place, “unshaven” and “exhausted”, do you ask yourself “What for?” Do you feel overexposed?

No – I don’t personally feel overexposed, because I am not doing it for me – I am doing it for poetry. And poetry needs all the exposure it can get. I have risked my life for poetry – quite literally – whether climbing mountains or going to parts of Colombia I shouldn’t have been going to, and I can say with an honest heart that it has all been worthwhile – more than worthwhile. Because the beauties of poetry will last far longer than I will last, and when I die I will be able to say – hopefully! – that I contributed my own small efforts to the world’s most profound artform, an artform that is both delicate and eternal. An artform that is all the more valuable because of how undervalued it is.

  • Have you ever asked yourself “Who do I write?”

I know that I am not doing it for me – I am doing it for other people. I have two friends in Scotland who are doctors and successful writers. They believe that writing poetry is as beneficial to society as curing illnesses. I find that very inspiring!

  • Kevin, you write a lot about love. Do people react more positively to these rather than to other poems? Is writing about love a poor substitute to the “real thing” or is it an integral part of it?

I do write about love, partly because it is, originally and ultimately, the true driving force that moves the world, and partly because personal circumstances in my life so dictated that I simply HAD to write about it. Dante wrote of ‘The love that moves the sun and the other stars’, while Joyce, ever so clever, wrote ‘Love loves to love love’. I have felt both rewardingly heightened and brokenly diminished by love and I’ve always felt that if I wrote about it I might begin to come to terms with my experiences. Love, like poetry, can be beautiful, transfixing, life-changing, overwhelming, destructive, unfaithful, dynamic and unforgettable.

And love, like poetry, ought to be compulsory.

June 2001


Every Month

Every month her miniature round ghost bleeds in your body. She was going to be my little Princess, which is why, curled sleeping in the milky white ultrasound scan of my dreamscreen, she wears a petite crown.

            Golden, absurd and useless, this crown, I think, is very like hope.

            She herself (vague, lucid, fragile, transparent) reminds me of a tear, a pale wee watery bubble that time’s jazz and the freeflowing weather of life would transform into a pure sparkling dancing snowflake, unique and mine and fingerprint perfect.

            But this snowflake, like a kiss, turned to lippy red slush. Was that deliberate on your part? For a few pads’ worth of poetry, of lunar blood?

            Because you forget something does not mean it didn’t happen.

Do you remember spending the first nine months of your life surrounded by water?

            I remember her heart beating like the smallest waves in the smallest pool that never existed.

            My little mermaid, coiled like a hug of shell, seahorse-perfect; she was murdered.

            She is always with me, my daughter, whose trusting gaze and unheld hand are an invisible jigsaw, whose breath is the questioning silence on the answer machine, whose mouth is the unkissed stamp on the condolence card no one knows to send.

Kevin MacNeil


Dead Bedrooms

            Two seahorses have made their home in a drawer which peeks out from beneath a bed in a ship lying shattered on the oceanfloor. It is many years since she went down and all the signs of chaos – bones, mirrors, handbags, clocks – have settled like slow dust.

            One day a visit is paid by a man with goggling eyes and a spine made of oxygen. Like a broken writer, he has grown a second, more special skin.

            He silently rifles through heavy decks, ponderous bars, dead bedrooms. He is not frightened by the bones and clocks, but by how calm, clean and unconcerned they seem.

            The deepening silence amplifies his heartbeat, which is strangely unreassuring. At this depth and pressure the ship’s heavyduty barometer has gone haywire, like a mind succumbed to the bends.

            When he notices the two seahorses, entwined at the tail and facing opposite directions, irresistibly suggesting a golden transparent heart, he jumps backwards in the fat treacle of sea, suffused with shock and beauty, his heart thrumming jazzily. He tries not to dazzle them with his torch, but in truth it is he who is dazzled.

            These creatures, so intelligent-looking and perfectly formed, invite in him the desire to communicate.

            He tells them of his visits to the Sea Life Centres with Dolphin, how he thinks that visiting a sunken ship in which seahorses dwell is maybe like how a seahorse feels living in a miniature box of ocean many fathoms above here in a roomful of sky. How seahorses are not, as he had once claimed, like words of love nor tiny floating saxophones, because, in this underwater world, time is too slow even for jazz and she –  the only girl he had truly loved – had never loved him. How her most sincere words had almost drowned him.

            He reaches out. The seahorses part, forcing him to grasp at an absent presence, the empty weight of their invisible heart.

            Once more he is set adrift, renounced, even by the image of her treachery.


The Room

The room was plain and expensive,
stuck like a squint eye
in the College of Inquisitive Sheep.
The window witnessed well-behaved
sunsets, mischievous stars and
me.
And you.
There, on that dumb hard bed
I re-nightmared the hotpinintheeye
of laser surgery, I traced waterfalls
to source, I sent poems fireworking
enough to seduce you.
The room is exactly
as it was, the same sun sets,
the sheep might as well
be clones: only the mirror sincerely
remembers and does not know
what to make of me,
makes of me
something transparent, transient and old,
a blinding, trembling tear.

Kevin MacNeil

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