Defying Destinies

For the cd album, Quelli che bruciano la frontiera

There are echoes of the profound anguish and resilience of the Francophone Tunisian poet, born of an Italian father and Tunisian-born Maltese mother, Mario Scalési (1892-1922) in this gathering of beautifully evocative and haunting voices. The subversive sequence of words and the often understated music mix with the emotionally charged chants of Moncef Ghachem, Biagio Guerrera and Faisal Taher to challenge what Scalési, in his dark poetic manifesto called “Lapidation,” describes as the “malédictions des hommes” and “celles du Destin.” Moncef Ghachem mentions Scalési in two of his poems in this collection, “Paris, fin novembre” and “Les poetes,” which refer to a host of poets who were victims of the violence of power because their work expressed the subversive and revolutionary power of literature.

Screenshot 2020-08-07 at 20.18.20

In quelli che bruciano la frontiera, Moncef Ghachem and Biagio Guerrera defy the many different constructed borders that separate poetry from personal anecdote and historical document and erect walls between the many layers of engaged verse and the immediacy of music and song. Their stories are highly personal and so are the images and voices they conjure up, like those of Guerrera’s grandmother Rosa Viola, with her strikingly poetical name and crisp voice, and Ghachem’s mother Kamar Jaafar, who sings a traditional Mahdia song to the Lady of Sailors. But their stories are also those of our people, our Mediterranean, the sea and the shores that are meant to bring neighbours together rather than drive a wedge between them.

In “Chiddu” Moncef Ghachem writes about the modern slavery that plagues our self-righteous West and condemns clandestine immigrants to long hours of underpaid work in inhuman conditions that totally disregard their dignity as human beings. It’s a poem about the mutilated and the voiceless that is a powerful indictment both of the unequal relationship between geographical and political North and South and the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots of contemporary Western society. Ghachem writes about those who have been “imported” for consumption, for “western exile,” an “infinite” exile, but also about the writer groping for words when faced with the debilitating anguish of exile, his fingers severed like those of the nameless immigrant.

Biagio Guerrera struggles with the “Rosa Viola” of a relationship lodged between a warm pink and sober violet, obsessively aware that he is the one who does “not know how to speak;” he is a poet caught in a bitter silence whose words fail him precisely when he needs them most. Guerrera finds him alone like his shadow, navigating through the dark anonymity of his existence (“Navigazione Notturna”). With his hands in the water, facing the possibility that he may never come ashore, hope and despair, “sperando/disperando,” are locked into one another.

“Exile is cruel,” writes Ghachem in his splendid Palermo diary about the exile of country and the exile of love; “its sea is rough.” And yet exile is also a meeting place of journeys and life stories, of memory and language. In many ways “Journal Palermo,” strategically placed at the “end” of this human and artistic journey, is a meeting place itself of Mediterranean languages, with Ghachem’s original text in Tunisian Arabic and Biagio Guerrera’s evocative recreation in Sicilian that inevitably lead me to where they touch in my language, Maltese, right in the middle of our sea. Languages are like seas of life and love, of abandonment and death. They are gentle and rough; they are shores but also depths. Language is music that defies borders; and its subversive rhythms lead me to you.

Malta 13/04/11


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