Antoine Cassar is a rarity in the world of literature; he’s a multilingual poet who writes in five languages. As if that creative talent weren’t enough, he goes a step further towards the impossible in poetry by weaving – in terms of rhythm, rhyme and sense – the five languages into single poems, which he calls Mużajki (mosaics). He also writes of events that shocked the world, and gripped the media, such as the Abruzzo earthquake last April; only his poetry immortalises events that garner only a few days regular media interest.
See Antoine at Notte Bianca
You can get feel for his work and the ‘five-a-day’ linguist-poet on 3 October when you’ll find him reciting his works as part of Notte Bianca cultural night of open-air, street and venue performance in Valletta. Antoine Cassar will be joined at the EU Representation in Valletta by fellow multilingual author Peter Wessel in a musical and poetic performance to celebrate the European Day of Languages. Wessel will be accompanied by musicians Mark Solborg on the keyboard and guitar and Salvador Vidal on the clarinet.
About Antoine Cassar
Born in London to Maltese parents in 1978, Antoine Cassar grew up and studied in England, Malta, Italy and Spain. He lives in Luxembourg, where he works as a translator. He is currently completing a doctoral thesis on the origins of the sonnet. Antoine presented his latest book Mużajk, an exploration in multilingual verse (Edizzjoni Skarta, 2008) at the Leipzig book fair and Berlin Literaturwerkstatt last March with the support of the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts (MCCA). In recent months, Antoine Cassar has been invited to perform his poetry at a number of literary festivals and events across western Europe.
Antoine explains his rationale to write multilingual poetry:”While the inclusion of Maltese confers the poetry that local feel and essence which any work claiming a degree of supranationality should harbour, the braiding of languages in the mużajki (Mużajk is the title given to the project, but the name of the form need not be written in any one particular language) allows me to listen to the voices within and around me without the pressing need to translate all thoughts, ideas and emotions into a single tongue.” A thought that no doubt resonates with many a hard-pressed translator who cannot find the right expression to render one language into another.
His poetry highlights
In mid-May this year, Cassar was invited to the Københavns 4. Internationale Poesifestival, organised by the Copenhagen Literaturhaus with the support of the Danish Arts Council. One of the most popular events was a projection of poetry films in which Cassar showed his two Maltese videopoems ‘Ċomb’, a violent description and lament of last December’s bombardment of the people of Gaza, and ‘L-Ajkla’, on April’s earthquake in the Abruzzo region, where Cassar lived in the winter of 1999/2000.
Cassar’s main event at the Copenhagen festival was a ground-breaking reading dedicated to what was advertised as ‘translingual poetry’. In 2004, three European poets, unbeknown to one another, embarked upon three seemingly similar yet essentially different individual projects of multilingual verse. Five years and a number of awards later, these same poets – Peter Wessel (Denmark/Spain), Øyvind Rimbereid (Norway), and Cassar himself – were brought together in a common reading in Copenhagen. Although the practice of writing poetry in a blend of tongues is by no means a novelty and has been taking place naturally for centuries, there was a fresh, contagious interest in multilingual verse among cultural organisers and literary critics.
A few weeks after Copenhagen, Cassar took part in Onzè, the eleventh edition of the Mediterranean poetry festival of Palma de Mallorca. Among the invited poets were Giuseppe Conte, one of Italy’s most renowned contemporary writers. At the event, Cassar gave prominence to his poetry in Maltese, choosing to recite Madrid Madrid, a long alliterative poem playing on the consonant group M-D-R (marid, imdardar, irmied…), documenting the four exciting, yet difficult years he spent in that city until soon after the March 2004 train bomb attacks in Atocha, where one of those to reach their final destination was his colleague Juan Pablo, with whom he often travelled to work.
In July, with the support of the Malta Council for Culture and the Arts, Cassar teamed up again with Peter Wessel and Øyvind Rimbereid for a second fully multilingual reading at the Poesiefestival Berlin, one of the largest literary events in Europe. Cassar recited the English adaptation of a work entitled ‘Merħba, a long narrative poem which celebrates the friendliness that welcomes travellers the world over, despite the tragedies and conflicts lived by families and communities on a daily basis, and the shrinking of our planet at the hands of global commerce.
The Merħba poem has also been adapted into Italian, and was recently declared a finalist of the literary prize Insieme Nel Mondo 2009.
For more information on Cassar’s poetry, including audio recordings, videos and reviews, visit http://muzajk.info.
Photo: Antoine Cassar at the Berlin Poetry Festival. © gezett.de