Chosen by Poetry

Adrian Grima interviews poet and translator Maria Grech Ganado

See also The Constant Dilemma of Writing Poetry

Maria Grech Ganado (1943) studied at the Universities of Malta, Cambridge (Girton College) and Heidelberg. She was the first Maltese woman to be appointed a full-time Lecturer (in the English Department) at the University of Malta in 1971. Apart from various articles and stories in English which have appeared in local newspapers and magazines, she has published two collections of Maltese poetry, the prize-winning Iżda Mhux Biss (1999) and Skond Eva (2001). Some of this work has appeared in translation in French and Italian books and journals – Souffles, Le Jardin d’Essai, Kaleidoscope, Da Qui & Mediterraneo Casa Comune. 

A number of Maria’s English poems have been published by foreign small press magazines, including Envoi and Orbis in the UK, Imago in Australia, and Cadences and Focus in Cyprus. Some poems appear in the showcase of Laura Hird’s literary(plus) website. In 2003, Maria published her first collection of English poems, Ribcage (Minima Publishers).

Maria Grech Ganado has attended conferences, symposia, and readings in Finland, Cyprus, Malta and Wales. In March she will represent Malta at the Leipzig Book Fair. She belongs to the dynamic Maltese literary group, Inizjamed. 

Maria believes that the most incompatible and arduous work she has ever had to do, was bringing up her three children, Xandru, Francesca and Louisa (b.1974/6/7), which she dedicated herself to exclusively for many years. It is also the work she is proudest of.

To read poetry by Maria Grech Ganado online go to www.mariagrechganado.com.

Maria, you have been asked to do quite a lot of literary translations over the past two years or so. How is translating Immanuel’s poetry different from translating works by other writers? 

Each writer’s work is different from that of others, as each writer is a unique individual. In fact, it can also be said that, as with any other art, certain phases of the same writer’s work differs from that of other phases. Immanuel writes both poetry and prose and they are different ways of writing not only because of their genre but because it is difficult to believe at first that the Romantic verses throbbing with passion and feelings are the product of the same person who writes the often-violent, acerbic and impersonal prose of the stories. Recently, some of Manuel’s poems have moved away from his own melancholic or turbulent feelings to his involvement with history, especially that of the East European countries he visits often – whereas his prose has also captured the introspective musings of the dreamer. In either genre he allows the language to be the protagonist, and this is why I consider him Malta’s greatest contemporary writer, thou many good writers continue to emerge.

You write wonderful poetry both in Maltese and in English. What makes you choose to write a particular poem in one language and not in the other? Do you translate your own poetry? 

Thanks for the compliment, though recently I’m feeling a bit insecure about the quality of my work ☺. I don’t choose to write a poem, it chooses me. Sometimes it comes in one language, sometimes another. Usually a line or an image just comes into my head for no apparent cause, and before I know how it’s going to develop, it just emerges onto a page. Most often, I have to write a poem first, and therefore try to carry paper and pen wherever I go. Sometimes I get stuck and the poem just lies among the thousands of papers in my flat, till I come across it one day unexpectedly and continue, or realise that what I’d written is the translation of the poem which needs writing in the other language. Sometimes I fill 2 A4 sheets with a poem that will take up less than half a page when published. The poems which need weeding are the most difficult to write. And, yes, I do translate my own poetry, because I have no other option – but my writing is minimalist and I find it too difficult to translate. I can’t really do it well because it lacks the dynamism of the reader-writer interaction.

What are you plans for the coming months in terms of publishing your work and international commitments?

I am going through the final stages of correcting, revising, proof-reading my next 2 collections, one in Maltese and one in English – there is still some tension in Malta with fundamentalists of either language and when I launch them together I wish it to be seen as symbolic of the possibility that good writing can be done in either language and that we should let our rich cultural heritage produce more, rather than eschewing either one of the languages. The Honourable Professor J.J. Cremona has written well in three languages, since Italian was the language of the professional classes in his youth As for international commitments, I am being backed by the German Embassy and the The National Council for Culture and the Arts to be the Maltese representative at the Leipzig Book Fair in March, where Readings, Interviews and debates will be held. The LAF (Literature Across Frontiers) has asked whether I could participate in some of their events too. After that, we will be going to Berlin for more of the same. I’m trying to re-schedule some of my events, because on the 22nd March, I am booked to read my Maltese poems in Germany and my English poems at the Commonwealth Literature Conference which is to be held in Malta this year.

Immanuel describes you as “a great poet” but also as his “fairy godmother.” “We first met, according to her, in an elevator: she said good morning and I refused to reply. Since then she has translated many works of mine into English, and thanks to her my writing got ‘promoted.'” Was the lift going up or down? 

Immanuel and I taught in the same College on the same floor for a least 3 years before we started to talk to each other. He’s got this pout and sometimes looks surly and when I smiled at him, as I do with everybody, he never smiled back. I didn’t know his name but I fell in love with his poetry. When I discovered that Mr Surly wrote ‘Poezija lil Clara’ I pounced on him when I next saw him, taught him how to smile, made him, laugh, went around telling everyone what a great writer he was. It was HE who first told me I had asked him why he never smiled when I found myself alone in the same lift some months before. We started a passionate relationship – not sexual or erotic – we were two lonely writers in love with our art who were stimulating each other also by virtue of the differences in our ages, backgrounds, and genders. We fought a lot, but I think he thinks of me as his fairy-godmother because I believed in his work with such intensity that I promoted it as hard as I could – both in Malta and abroad. I’ve translated much of his work, both poetry and prose, and there is such a bond of trust between us now, that the translating is as natural as breathing. He corrects my Maltese spelling and occasional grammar mistake, and helps in the production of my Maltese books. He is also the subject of much of my Maltese poetry. So I think I can safely say the lift was going up, is still going up, because of the interaction.

Which poem did you enjoy translating most in Polska-Slovensko?

I am not satisfied with some of the translations in this book. They were done in a hurry and I wasn’t given the opportunity to revise them, which I like to after at least a week. But I enjoyed translating four very much – these are “Sex Shop,” “For Lily, Somewhere between Cracow and Warsaw,” “In the Doll Chamber, Auschwitz” and “The Story of a Woman who lives in Blatnica.” 

Adrian Grima


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