‘I always aim to remain an emerging writer’ | Leanne Ellul

Ahead of a poetry reading at Studio Solipsis, Rabat – ‘Fuq id-Definizzjoni ta’ Ħalla’ – author Leanne Ellul speaks to Teodor Reljic about the difference between prose and poetry, and challenges some perceptions of what writing ‘should be’ 

Leanne Ellul: “For me, writing has always been an end in itself”
Leanne Ellul: “For me, writing has always been an end in itself”

When did you first start writing, and what were some of your initial ‘goals’ as a writer?

When I was very young I remember my family members relying on me to write the cards for different occasions (no pressure) and schoolmates joking around and saying that one day their children will be studying my writings. I always remember having a pen at hand to scribble and jot down anything that came to mind, from words in dialect to words that for no apparent reason I considered to be beautiful. At 13 years of age, though, I made a conscious choice to write. And writing is what remained with me throughout. I still took piano, singing and dancing lessons. I still tried my hand at painting. But at the time I also used to write lyrics and I remember I said to myself that above all I wanted to write. 

I never call myself a writer – other people refer to you as such. But I write.  And as obvious as it may sound, I write because I string words together. It is neither a healing process nor an act of self-expression. It is what I do and, or rather, something I cannot do without. 

For me writing has always been an end in itself. A process I have to engage in, in order to move on to more writing. To have the means to share what I’ve written, is added value. To get published or even win prizes comes along after a lot of hard work. So my initial goal was, and still is, to write. And in order to write and re-write (myself) I always aim to remain an emerging writer.

As a relatively young Maltese writer, what is your experience of both Maltese literature and the local literary scene in general? What were some of your influences as you started writing in earnest, and what kind of reaction did your work receive when you first started getting published?

I love the word relatively. Well, locally I organize events related to literature, both local and international, and I participate in other events and projects too. I work with Inizjamed, a voluntary non-governmental cultural organization that organizes the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival and manages a number of different projects, namely with Valletta 2018. Currently, as a result of work done in years past, the literary scene is buzzing with activity. 

I used to love reading out loud at school events (especially poetry) and that passion for performing kept growing in me. Thus, events like the open mics organized by Inizjamed are a space where one can read such works and receive immediate feedback. It is an experimental space where one can interact and exchange ideas with like-minded people. Poetry was were I started from and it is the space I always return to, the space I feel most comfortable in, be it reading and writing.

When it comes to publishing, it depends what one means by it. A staged play can or a reading can also be considered as a publication. I was relatively – that came in handy! – young when I wrote for theatre and in hindsight I would have done a lot of things differently. But it served as a learning curve. Gramma created discussions about the subject, the genre and so on, and people are still reading it and reacting positively to it. Poetry seems to have been received well too. And that can only mean that I will have to work harder and better.

Above all, I am very positive about the current situation. Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean we should stop striving for better achievements. It means we are moving in the right direction… but we need to keep on working and above all, we should work together.

In large part due to the success of Gramma, you tend to be seen as a writer of prose for the most part. Yet, you’ll be reading out some of your poetry for this upcoming event at Studio Solipsis. Could you tell us a little bit about how you approach poetry, and whether there will be some sort of overarching theme for the event?

Some tend to segregate prose and poetry. But I tend to see them as one. Of course, there are differences between both genres, but to see them as two completely different genres doesn’t do them justice. As Helene Cixous very well states, poetry can also be found in “theoretical” texts, and it is through the poet’s right that she has given to herself, that she manages to respond to a moment of tension through poetry.

If one looks close enough, poetry can be found everywhere. It can been seen in the very act of hunger and the joy of food, in blood and sweat, in coffee and running water, in birth and death. In the end, we are dealing with the craft of words. The words that conjure events, sequences, movements, places, actions and so on.

A wise man once told me that whether I write plays, prose or poetry, my writings are poetic. According to this wise man, I always write poetry. I carried that comment with me, and it is through that perseverance that I dare say I began to find my voice in poetry. During the past years, or rather months, I confirmed that whatever I write, is poetry/poetic. 

As (un)poetical as it might sound, I always used to say that I do not know how to write love. Well, from the feedback I have received, I guess I have proved myself wrong here too. Cynical as I might be, I write love. And I write the sea. And sometimes I do not make a difference between both. Hence, ħalla as a verb and as a noun is a word that resonates with a number of verses I write. I believe that one should read poetry and just let it be. One also has to leave poetry, in order to come back to it.

On that note, what do you make of Studio Solipsis as a venue and creative space? What kind of potential do you think it has as a venue, and would you say Malta needs more and more of such spaces?

Currently Inizjamed is working from Studio Solipsis, a space that I love to work from for many different reasons. It is a studio where people meet in order to create and things are bound to happen. Where views are formed and discussed and where creativity is key. 

When taking advice from Adrian Grima about this event, he suggested Studio Solipsis as an intimate space where poetry can be read without any interruptions. The space has a lot of potential to transform itself into whatever one might want it to become.

There is also value in very fact that the space is not located in Valletta. Valletta has become a hub of creative activity with a number of spaces – with some being solely art spaces and other that can be lent to such a thing. To move away from Valletta is not an easy move but one that carries value in itself. And of course we do need more of such independent spaces that are not governed by bureaucratic choices and sometimes tend to hinder the creative process, rather than enhance it. 

Fuq id-Definizzjoni ta’ Halla will be taking place at Studio Solipsis, Triq Il-Kbira, Rabat on June 15 at 20:00