Introductions to Maltese poetry by:

Bernard Micallef

Maria Grech Ganado


Poems by Adrian Grima


Poetry from Malta



Maltese Literature — The New Writing

Adrian Grima

By Adrian Grima

The term “Maltese Literature” normally refers to literature written in the Maltese language, a Semitic language that owes its birth to the arrival of the Arabs on Malta in 870AD and that was subsequently heavily influenced by Italian, Sicilian and more recently English. Some Maltese authors do write in other languages, especially English, but most Maltese would identify Maltese literature with authors who have written exclusively or mainly in Maltese.

Maltese literature is generally divided into two main periods:

• the pre-Independence (Malta became independent from Britain in 1964) romantic literature dominated by the figure of Malta's national poet, the Catholic priest Dun Karm Psaila, but also by other poets and novelists such Rużar Briffa, Anton Buttigieg, Ġużė Galea, Karmenu Vassallo, and Ġużė Chetcuti
• the post-Independence so-called “modern” writers who intially reacted against the standard literary forms and idealization of the Maltese nation by the romantics and who in some ways revolutionized the content and form of the canon. This wave of post-Independence writers is represented by writers like Daniel Massa, Achille Mizzi, Victor Fenech, Oliver Friggieri, Frans Sammut and Alfred Sant.

Some would argue that the new generation of writers that came to the forefront of the literary scene in Malta in the 1990s constitute “the New Wave Writers.” In 2005 Paul Xuereb noted that Inizjamed (inizjamed.org), a literary group set up in 1998 that brings together a number of writers from the new generation, had “already made a perceptible impact on our young authors and readers” and was “now coming more forcibly than before to the attention of older readers.” Another literary group that has promoted innovative contemporary Maltese literature is Poeżijaplus (poezijaplus.com), whose regular monthly public readings often complement Inizjamed's local and international creative writing projects.

The writer and academic Maria Grech Ganado claims that there has never been “so much literary ferment in the Maltese islands since the sixties.” A “growing number of young Maltese” have “already made a name for themselves, despite the fact that it is extremely difficult for new writers to have prose published, and virtually impossible when they write poetry.” Immanuel Mifsud, she writes, is “the best known of the new wave.” Since 1991, Mifsud has published five collections of short stories in Maltese and one in English, Happy Weekend (Midsea Books 2006) with translations of some of his more recent work. He has also published four collections of poetry in Maltese, two of which (Polska-Slovensko, 2004 and km, 2005) have parallel texts in English. Translations of Mifsud's poetry into English by Maurice Riordan (with intermediary translations by Adrian Grima) appeared in Confidential Reports (Southword Editions, Ireland, 2005). “Immanuel Mifsud,” claims the publisher, “brings a new note of emotional candour to contemporary poetry. Confidential Reports tells the tale of love and grief in poems that are direct, often darkly erotic, and shot through with wit and humour. This is poetry as the old rock 'n roll — edgy, excessive, and visceral in its appeal. Mifsud resembles a rumbustious latter-day troubadour as his imagination roams the Mediterranean and mainland Europe. Here is a book that is lyrical, vulnerable and transgressive.”

In an interview given to Matthew Vella (“A poet's voyage,” Malta Today, 22 May 2005), Immanuel Mifsud himself said that there are good writers in Malta who “are waiting for the right time to have their work published.” He then referred to Inizjamed's most recent anthology of contemporary Maltese literature, Ktieb ghall-Ħruq (Inizjamed, 2005) and said that it was a good indication that “the future of Maltese literature is bright.”

Tight Rope Walking

The work that marks the beginning of the new wave of Maltese literature is Henry Holland's largely unknown short collection of poetry, L-Artist tat-Trapiz (1996). It is not Mr. Holland's fault that the book hasn't attracted the attention it deserves. A literature is so much more than a body of works written over a stretch of time "by" a community: It is, perhaps first and foremost, about that body of works being read, coming alive in the consciousness of individuals in the community in a very real way. And this cannot happen if that community lacks a solid infrastructure that first produces the book and presents it to its potential readers.

The book infrastructure is as important in the creative process as the writer: Good editors, publishers, critics, TV presenters, school teachers, cultural officers, festival organisers, literary magazines make the book. Can we have a literature if we don't have any of that? Isn't it telling that the fate of what is arguably one of the most interesting books of Maltese poetry of the 1990s so eloquently sums up the predicament, or should we say "challenges," to choose a popular euphemism, of Maltese literature today?

One cannot say, of course, that Mr Holland's book, with its crisp new voice and perspectives, with the honesty of its literary language and the personal stories he tells about recent Maltese history, had a profound effect, as it certainly could have had, on the literature that came after it. The argument here is that in his book, and in the poems that he has published since, readers will find new Maltese poetry, a literary voice that one cannot place among those of the established writers. The book got one prominent review in The Times of Malta: “The sudden, brusque opening lines,” wrote Louis Scerri, “the unusual imagery, the 'violent' language, the cerebral content, all make Holland's poetry a very intriguing experiment that frequently captures the reader's attention.”

Another significant development in literature written in Maltese is the emergence of at least hree (there are more) women writers. With her strong commitment to Maltese writers and Maltese literature on a personal but also on a national and international level, and with the publication of five collections of poetry, three of which are in Maltese, Maria Grech Ganado has helped to shape the language and the themes of the new literature. Clare Azzopardi, with her intelligent, highly innovative and often trenchant prose, and Simone Inguanez, with her engaging poetry, have opened up our literature to new literary experiences. Two other significant voices among those who are taking Maltese poetry into unchartered waters are Norbert Bugeja and Walid Nabhan, but there are others.

The best-known writer of the new generation is Immanuel Mifsud. His five collections of short stories and three selections of poetry (apart from his publications abroad) have established him as a brave narrator of strong emotions and tough, often distressing experiences. But his success lies also, if not mainly, in the fact that he has proved to be a versatile writer, both in terms of the breadth of the stories he tells and the structure, metaphor and tone he employs. The prose works of Bernard Micallef, Ġuzè Stagno and Karl Schembri, for different reasons, have also given new voices and dimensions to Maltese literature. But then so have Trevor Zahra and Vince Vella, with their insatiable thirst for breaking new ground in content and form. Theirs, too, is new writing.

Read also “New Women” New Women and other articles by Adrian Grima in English on Maltese literature at adriangrima.com and babelmed.net.