Remembering Rużar Briffa | Metamorfosi

Ahead of a book launch on April 24, Kit Azzopardi speaks to us about the Ghaqda tal-Malti’s series of interdisciplinary events commemorating the 50th anniversary of poet Rużar Briffa’s death, which will culminate in a volume launched at Teatru Salesjan

Dance rehearsal as part of the Ghaqda tal-Malti’s events commemorating the 50th anniversary of Rużar Briffa’s death. Photo by Gilbert Calleja
Dance rehearsal as part of the Ghaqda tal-Malti’s events commemorating the 50th anniversary of Rużar Briffa’s death. Photo by Gilbert Calleja

Apart from the obvious ceremonial cue of the 50th anniversary, what would you say is the main impetus of this event?

As you rightly pointed out, the 50th anniversary of Briffa’s death was a cue to commemorate one of the Għaqda’s founders. However, besides that we wanted to push forward the idea that it’s OK to commemorate a great poet in a non-ceremonial, non-formal way.

Thus, we embarked on an interdisciplinary project through which four emerging writers explored the manifold aspects of Briffa’s works. Of course, Briffa is the heart and soul of the project, but just as important as commemorating a poet, we wanted to nurture new writers and writings in dialogue with other forms of art.

We wanted to create a space where writers could coin new works through a process which also involved research. In fact we hope that the long lasting effect of the project commences rather than ends on April 24, when the publication will be launched.

Which aspects of Rużar Briffa’s life and work did you seek to give prominence to during this event?

During this project we went through thorough research by looking at Briffa’s writings and several documents kept at his house in Valletta, for which we thank his niece Tanya Mizzi. We highlighted aspects close to Briffa’s heart such as the sciences, history, and relationships. We got to know more about his medical endeavours through his lecture notes or prescriptions.

We also sought to give prominence to aspects that have never been published before, such as his Curriculum Vitae. We tried to tap into the details from which the writers and the other artists could work on their ideas.

How did you go about choosing the people involved in the project? What criteria did you use?

Since the project was partially funded by the Premju tal-President għall-Kreattività the open call for writers was aimed at between 18 and 25 years of age. We processed all the applications with the help of local authors Rita Saliba and John Bonello. From then on, we paired up the writers with artists from different fields of expertise.

The idea was to have different artists working together on different themes and styles inspired by this literary figure. Through the process the writers were guided in specifically designed lectures and workshops by professional people in the field.

What are some of the most interesting things to emerge from the project, as pertaining to Rużar Briffa’s legacy?

By going through some of his documents we discovered a piece of writing he penned in India, a really interesting period in his life. We also got to listen to some interesting anecdotes too.

We shared our knowledge (and a lot of photos too) with all the participants. They all chose poems and aspects of Briffa’s life they could relate to. As blunt as it may sound, writing isn’t about inspiration; it is about putting down your pen (or rather keyboard) and get to writing. Obviously, being exposed to ample material that was fit for discovery and reworking is an excellent starting point, and this is precisely what we were seeking when we provided the young writers with Briffa’s writings.

What do you think makes Rużar Briffa’s poetry relevant and enduring to contemporary Malta?

To say the least, Briffa was not like his contemporaries. He was experimenting with his writing. He also stood the test of time, and his works were given various interpretations, both literary and through other artistic forms. The themes he tackles are universal yet very personal, and so verses such as “Għall-marid mhux Poeżija / imma serħ t’Anestesija” transcend space and time. Besides, if they were not the good poems that they were (and still are) they wouldn’t have served as the good starting point they’ve been to the artists.

How will the 24 April event be structured? And what can we expect from the publication?

The April 24 is the culmination of a very exciting journey that lasted months for both writers and artists alike. The launch will not only feature the book, which is just a product given the whole process the participants have been through, albeit being of a very high quality (kudos to Pierre Portelli from Merlin for the excellent design).

The launch will feature live, immersive experiences. The audience will walk through the Teatru Salesjan, including parts of the theatre which are not usually accessible to audiences, and will be presented namely with paintings, music, and performances. The publication presents facsimiles of Briffa’s work, original works by the emerging writers, original compositions by the artists involved and also original accounts and observations on Briffa’s work. Photography was mainly taken by Gilbert Calleja; the photographs are artistic in themselves.

The writers of the project are Sylvana Bugeja, Theresa Abdilla, Elena Stilon and Maria Vella who worked with Ryan Falzon (painter), Manoel Pirotta (maestro), Marta Vella (actress) and Francesca Cassar (dancer) respectively. The project was co-ordinated by Kit Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Dorianne Bonello on behalf of the Għaqda tal-Malti – Università. The former two are also the editors of the book.

This project would not have been made possible without the help of the following: Malta Arts Fund, Premju tal-President għall-Kreattività, the University of Malta, the University of Malta Library, Teatru Salesjan (SARP), Merlin, l-Akkademja tal-Malti, and the Department of Maltese. This project is endorsed by the Valletta 2018 Foundation.

Metamorfosi will be launched at Teatru Salesjan, Sliema on April 24 at 19:00

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