No like klandestini

Babelmed | 09/02/2005

Klandestini – Emerging Mediterranean Writers is a 15-month multilateral creative writing project which consisted mainly of a series of creative writing workshops for emerging writers in Malta, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy. “Klandestini,” is a Maltese word which refers to so-called “illegal immigrants,” an image and/or theme that people felt grounded them in reality and inspired them without confining them.

Adiam, the absent, clandestine protagonist of Clare Azzopardi’s story, “No adjective describe story” tries to appropriate her story through the language of the Other:

the school nice school
Malta nice
St. Julian’s
Valletta nice
I never school
Eritrea war
don’t always like
I happy but I leave
Maltese no like klandestini
klandestini say
I happy
Maltese friendly
good with me
we afraid
my country war
long time war
don’t say my story
no pleas
if government knows I problem
many problem

This is an excerpt from one of the 20 poems and short stories that were chosen to be read at the Festival for Emerging Mediterranean Writers held in Malta as part of the Klandestini multilateral creative writing project.

The Project in Brief
In October, 2003, Inizjamed and The British Council launched Klandestini – Emerging Mediterranean Writers, a 15-month multilateral creative writing project which consisted mainly of a series of creative writing workshops for emerging writers in Malta, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy. Some of the participants wrote in English but most wrote in their native language and had their works translated into English. The project ended with a festival of emerging Mediterranean literature in Malta in November 2004. The project was supported by the St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity in Malta.

The workshops focused on poetry and short stories and they were led by established writers based in the UK, Northern Irish poet Sinéad Morrissey for Cyprus, Hungarian-born writer and translator George Szirtes for Greece, and the Irish London-based poet and translator Maurice Riordan, mentored the group of emerging writers in Malta. The Cypriot group also had two important local mentors in Stephanos Stepahnides and Aydin Mehmet Ali. Maltese writer Immanuel Mifsud and literary theorist Dr. Ivan Callus chose the Maltese works for the Klandestini festival.

At the beginning of the project, some people were afraid that assigning an image or theme would put the writers off because it would be seen as limiting their creativity, while others felt that without a common image or theme the project would lack identity. Eventually Inizjamed proposed “klandestini,” a Maltese words which refers to so-called “illegal immigrants,” an image and/or theme that people felt grounded them in reality and inspired them without confining them.

Creating Spaces
When the Maltese cultural organization Inizjamed and the British Council office in Malta came up with the idea of creating a multilateral creative writing project they chose to focus on the Mediterranean because Malta has ignored the memory and cultures of the Mediterranean for far too long. Most Maltese people today identify themselves with Europe: Europe is “us;” the Mediterranean, that is the “South,” is “them.” This is not to say that the Maltese feel they are fully-fledged continental Europeans – there probably aren’t many islanders anywhere who consider themselves full members of an adjacent continental mass, and the Maltese are certainly no exception. But because the Maltese have shared the same religion and culture with Europe for centuries since the Muslims were forced to leave the Maltese Islands in the mid-thirteenth century, most Maltese feel culturally closer to Europe. The (Western) Europeans are seen as trend-setters while the Mediterranean is often equated with sun, sea, irresolvable conflicts and a rich, quaint and obsolete cultural heritage.

Over the past decade or so, with the seemingly unwelcome arrival by boat of refugees, asylum seekers and other migrants mainly, but not exclusively, from North and subsaharan Africa, many Maltese have once again identified the Mediterranean Sea with the unwanted Other threatening our culture and livelihood. According to the Caritas report on Poverty in Malta for 1998, a good number of Maltese respondents considered the presence of immigrants and refugees in their neighbourhoods as “a threat to their security. It somehow down-classed their neighbourhoods and brought abnormality into their otherwise normal lives.”

And yet, as seasoned migrants ourselves, the Maltese should know better. Malta has a two-hundred-year-old direct experience of emigration. Historian Henry Frendo has noted, for instance, that “in Malta’s year of Independence, 1964, 8,731 Maltese citizens left the islands in the hope of earning a living elsewhere, one of the highest rates of emigration ever recorded.” It has never been easy for those Maltese who emigrated, mostly for purely economic reasons, to settle abroad. The Caritas report talks about “the indifference, prejudice and silent hostility” that the local population showed towards the immigrants. This negative attitude caused stress, frustration, ill health, weak communication and language skills, and solitude. The immigrants faced “old forms of poverty like inadequate housing, work problems and economic stress.”

No like klandestini

In a provocative passage in what he calls his “breviary” of the Mediterranean (Mediteranski brevijar), Predrag Matvejević claims that “mediterraneity” is not something you inherit, but something you achieve; it is not an advantage, but a decision you make. Anyone can choose to become mediterranean; however, “they say that there are less and less true mediterraneans in the Mediterranean Sea.” The Italian social and cultural activist Flavio Mongelli believes that being mediterranean is both a choice and an inheritance. On the other hand he agrees with Matvejević that the Mediterraneans should emphasize the process of becoming mediterranean, but only if that means accepting that one’s culture is the (ever-changing) outcome of many identities, if it is a multiple identity, “un’ identità plurale.” This requires what Mongelli calls “an act of consciousness. If we conceive of the Mediterranean as a “multiple” identity, then “we feel that we belong not only to the culture into which we were born but also to the other cultures that in some way influenced our culture. In this sense we become Mediterranean when we acknowledge this “plurality.” On the other hand, precisely because we have to “read within ourselves,” in a way we are born mediterranean, and “inside us we are structured in a way that there are many cultures.” The problem is having the ability to acknowledge this.

No like klandestini

Because Klandestini is an overtly Mediterranean project that tackles an age-old Mediterranean reality, that of emigration and immigration, it is a project that addresses issues related to our inevitably multiple identities as human beings and as Mediterraneans. The region has been identified with conflict and violence, with distances and divides, and yet dialogue between the various cultures shouldn’t be so difficult because over the centuries, people in many parts of this region with strong cosmopolitan traditions have learnt to develop relationships between, and beyond diversities.

Flavio Mongelli believes that because artists and cultural operators somehow represent the avant-garde of a people, its most sensitive and creative part, and because they are, in a sometimes subversive, clandestine way, “opinion-leaders” in their country, they are in a better position to express “the emotions and processes experienced by their people.” If the artist and cultural operator “support dialogue,” if they “encourage young artists to develop their art together and to collaborate on particular issues, their encounter will certainly have a positive effect in every individual country. It is therefore vital to create spaces, as the Klandestini project has done, for young artists to work together, for intellectuals to get to know each other, to exchange their views and experiences. This, according to Flavio Mongelli, is the best way to bring about the rebirth of collaboration between different countries and different peoples.

This is also, in a perhaps clandestine, unauthorized way, what the Mediterranean multilateral creative writing project Klandestini is all about.

Klandestini Festival of Emerging Mediterranean Writers
The final act of the Klandestini project was the Festival of Emerging Mediterranean Literature held between Friday 5 and Sunday 7 November, 2004, at St. James Cavalier in Valletta, Malta. The programme included two seminars on writing, translation and publication and two different literature readings by writers from Italy, Cyprus, Greece and Malta. All events were free and the general public was welcome to attend.

The writers selected to take part in the Festival were Nora Nadjarian, Jenan Selchuck, Gurgenc Korkmazel, Faize Ozdemirciler, Maria Thoma, and Christian Avraamidou from Cyprus; Frederico Zanatta, Marco Andreoli, Valerio Cruciani, and Alessandro Aronadio from Italy; Sotiris Selavis, Archontoula Alexandropoulou, Pavlina Ferfelli, and Angeliki Sigourou from Greece; and Clare Azzopardi, Stanley Borg, Norbert Bugeja, Priscilla Cassar, Maria Grech Ganado, and Adrian Grima from Malta. .

The speakers at the seminar on writing and translation were the young Maltese writer Norbert Bugeja, who spoke about “Writing in the Language of the Other;” Jane Griffiths, an award-winning UK writer and academic, who read a paper called, “The tongue tied: Poetry as Translation;” and the young Greek writer and academic, Arcontoula Alexandropoulou, who spoke about “Translation and Poetry as Cooking on Notes and Dressing on Watercolours.”

The guest speaker during the seminar on publication was Neil Astley, founder of Bloodaxe Books (1978) and UK award-winning poet and novelist. His presentation, “Publishing: For or Against a Readership?” centred on the divisions in literature, the ways the interests of writers, readers and publishers too often conflict with one another, so that everyone loses out in the end.

Most of the texts not originally written in English presented during the two literary evenings, coordinated by Marcelle Teuma with the help of Claire Zerafa, Clare Azzopardi, Chris Gatt and Alec Massa, were read by the authors themselves in their original languages: Italian, Maltese, Greek, and Turkish; some were read wholly or partly in English. The texts read in the different languages were accompanied by English translations projected on a screen behind the readers.

Another important feature of the Klandestini Festival of Emerging Mediterranean was the installation in the St. James Cavalier Centre for Creativity, “and when i reach port…” Pierre Portelli, a leading Maltese visual artist: “Anxious departures conceived in a paroxysm of febrile thought. The sleepless waves bear the boat of the Initiate to the cult of chance as the furtive thought throbs with expectation. Art stretches language to its limits and creates new possibilities even peripheral ones. The clandestine thought, like the ever shifting paper boat provides a means of fragile escape from stagnation, repression … breaking the shackles of imprisoning logical thought and going beyond that to create and transform possibilities.

Adrian Grima

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