In conversation with Miriam Calleja
Trust me: Miriam Calleja is a writer to watch.
Miriam is the bilingual author of poetry collections Pomegranate Heart (EDE Books, 2015) and Inside Skin (a two-book series in collaboration with a lith photographer, EDE Books 2016).
Her poems have appeared in newspapers, magazines and anthologies, locally and internationally. She has been published in the anthology for mental health charities Please Hear What I’m Not Saying (2018, editor Isabelle Kenyon), and in the collection Poetic Potatoes (2018, a collaboration between Valletta 2018 and Inizjamed together with Leeuwarden 2018).
Her work has been translated into Slovene in the collection Wara Settembru (2018, Slovene Writers Association).She lives in Malta where she regularly facilitates creative writing workshops, literary salons, and poetry performances. She prefers to use her words in collaborations with other artists. She has read at events in Malta, Berlin, Italy, London, and New York.
1. I’m very interested in your bilingual poetry. Can you describe the experience of writing poetry, both in English and in Maltese?
As a child I learned to speak in both Maltese and English simultaneously, so I have never known anything different. My thoughts are also bilingual! The voice that calls upon poetry uses both, and I find it difficult to draw a line and explain how this is done. However, I do feel that the melody of the Maltese language dictates when words will need a certain sound to be able to get the message of the poem across. The sound comes from a different place in my mind, my mouth, and my memory. It is somewhat grounded differently, it has a weight of ancestry, or secrecy, of not quite belonging. I write it with the knowledge of a limited audience. When you're bilingual you long to speak to people who also know the same languages because you can code switch and explain exactly what you want. The languages fill each other's gaps, and that's how I feel my poetry works too.
2. What themes and ideas are you currently interested in exploring in your work?
For the past few months I've been working with elderly communities and exploring the themes of traditional Maltese 'Għana' (folk music with rhyming and storytelling, sometimes improvised by the singer). I'm interested in storytelling and its power. I was also collecting their life stories during our conversations. Thanks to these sessions I could take these stories, interlace them, and use them to collaborate with other artists. In this case I've been collaborating/working with two choreographers. Next week I'll be attending a writing retreat at Garsdale, with a focus on intertextual poetry, so I'm hoping that this will be a stepping stone to my next focus.
(Picture Credit: Aldo Cauchi Savona)
3. You worked with a photographer for your collection, ‘Inside Skin’ – can you talk about that process?
I've got a passion for collaborations, and sometimes you meet another artist and you just know that you're on the same wavelength. When I worked with Zvezdan Reljic and his lith photography, I could see that the life in his 'stills' corresponded to the action in my distilled words. We sat around his living room table and the book materialised from a passing thought to a reality rather quickly. I have always loved his sense of what is beautiful (he designed my first book Pomegranate Heart, too) and we could trust each other to bring our best to Inside Skin.
4. In your poem, ‘disaster’, what are suggesting by the line ‘it will not be watered down’?
My poem 'disaster' is about the assassination of Maltese journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia. She dedicated (and lost) her life to the truth. Rather than her voice being silenced, people all over the world have been fighting and stepping up their game to get to the truth. The tragedy of her loss did the opposite of dampening the desire to seek to end corruption and impunity.
dis- [doing away with]
blotting out the night sky
ink that runs to the core
it will not be watered down
we put up signs
no parking between those lines
-aster [a star]
5. What projects are you working on currently?
Aside from poetry, I've also been writing some short stories and flash fiction this year. When I get some time and my current projects are wrapped up, I'd like to focus on getting a collection of shorts together. I'm also working on my next collection of poetry and hope to release it in 2019.
Upcoming publications in collections - Leħen il-Malti (Għaqda tal-Malti, Università ta’ Malta), Persona Non Grata (Fly on the Wall Poetry Press).