‘Poetry in potato bags’ sees rural-literary cultural exchange between Malta and the Netherlands

Valletta 2018-sponsored initiative sees ‘cultural exchange’ of poetry via potato sacks travelling between Malta and Netherlands – reading will take place this Friday

Adrian Grima will be one of the poets whose work will be read on the evening
Adrian Grima will be one of the poets whose work will be read on the evening

On January 29 at 19:00 at Palazzo de la Salle (Malta Society of Arts) in Republic Street, two Dutch and two Maltese poets will be reading their poetry as part of the Poetry in Potato Bags project. The event is being organized by the Embassy of the Netherlands and Inizjamed in collaboration with the Valletta 2018 Foundation. Entrance to this event is free.

The Dutch Frisian-language poets invited to Malta are Hein Jaap Hilarides, who is also a musician, and Janneke Spoelstra. The Maltese writers are Adrian Grima and Rita Saliba. 

Michael Caruana from Qrendi, who visits Dutch potato farmers regularly, will be speaking during the evening about his experiences as a potato farmer and exporter in Malta.

This event is part of the run up to the 2018 European Capital of Culture of both Valletta and Leeuwarden. Malta has a longstanding relationship with Leeuwarden/Fryslân that dates back to around 1850. A rather remarkable food item has been the matchmaker between these regions, being the potato. Both Malta and Fryslân (province of the Netherlands, with Leeuwarden as capital) are officially bilingual and have a large treasure of poets and poetry. Every year around the end of September the first seed potatoes leave Fryslân and are transported to Malta. In March fresh from the seed grown potatoes come back the reverse way and are being sold in Dutch supermarkets.

This was the reason for the Bildtse Aardappelweken Foundation, in cooperation with the organization of Leeuwarden2018 and Valletta2018 to set up a project making the cultural and economic bond visual. In September 2014 Frisian poems, with an English translation, were shipped along with the seed potatoes in a specially designed potato bag. One of the poems was printed on a special label and attached to the seed potato sacks, read by many farmers, their families and others in Malta.

In March 2015 Maltese poems, with an English translation were shipped the reverse way. In the years to come, ending March 2018 this will be repeated. A Maltese literary poem, printed on a special label in the Frisian and Maltese languages, attached to around 10,000 sacks of 2.5 kg each, is read in an equal number of households in the Netherlands.

In January 2015, filmed impressions of five Frisian poems were presented at an art festival in Leeuwarden and were shown for a whole month. A special poetry night will be organised, for which Maltese poets will be invited as well as Dutch poets. All the poems will be voice recorded by native speakers in the Maltese and Frisian language. There are thoughts about illustrating the publication with photographs of the countryside in Fryslân and Malta. As a result from this inspiring potato journey a special, multilingual poetry book will be made in the languages Frisian, Maltese, Dutch and English, presented in March 2018. In November 2018 poetry will be exhibited in the Nature Museum Fryslân in Leeuwarden.

As a parallel program, schools in Malta and Fryslân will participate in the literary exchange of poetry. In Fryslân students get food lessons in their classrooms and write their own poetry. A poet, a farmer and a cook will give guest lessons in the schools, visits to a farm are part of the educational program offered to the schools for free. Funding is partly coming from the province of Fryslân.

The participating schools in Malta will write poetry for the schools in Fryslân. Together with the potatoes and the literary poetry also the poems of primary schools are being exchanged. A selection of the poetry will be exhibited in the Leeuwarden Museum for Nature in November 2018. When possible, the children’s poetry will also be published in a book.