NEWS | Sunday, 11 November 2007

Mario Azzopardi’s call to arms: ‘We need confrontational

Karl Schembri

Mario Azzopardi is back, with more vigour and creativeness than ever.
The 63-year-old poet, theatre director, columnist and drama lecturer is making a comeback to the publishing scene after an absence of 12 years – bar his weekly newspaper columns – since his last book of poems, Noti mis-Sanatarju tal-Mistici.
This time, it will be his first public venture into prose for adolescents in a daring book that will be published later this month by Merlin Library, Alicia Titkellem mill-Imwiet (Alicia Speaks form the Underworld).
In his latest work, that is bound to spark the customary controversy Azzopardi knows well how to stir, the author tackles highly controversial issues, including sexuality and child abuse, in stories that are a far cry from the corpus of ‘innocent’ stories for children in Maltese.
But another equally important work that is coming out is a wide-ranging investigation of the man himself in a biographical book that tracks his life and works from the Sixties – when Azzopardi was at the forefront of avant-garde literature with his brothers in arms of the Moviment Qawmien Letterarju – to the present day.
Charles Briffa’s Travelling Between Shadows, to be launched the coming Friday at the Book Fair, is an essential account into Malta’s possibly most radical, and misunderstood, man of letters.
Just like Azzopardi’s multi-faceted public figure as committed poet, teacher, director and militant journalist, Briffa delves into the multiple personalities of the prolific author that are connected through a consistent engaged critical analysis of the establishment.
Against the grain is possibly the best way to describe Azzopardi’s life journey. And it is with his typical confrontational outlook that he will be facing the book fair’s audience in the coming weekend.
“How is the book fair going to stir people’s critical consciousness?” he tells MaltaToday. “Or is it going to be another conglomeration of stalls set up to sell junk in a glorified bazaar?”
The blasé attitude of Maltese artists and intellectuals playing on safe territory and their detachment from social reality is Azzopardi’s rallying cry since his first publications, and he does not miss the occasion to reiterate his call to arms.
“Aesthetic qualities on their own are insufficient to meet the social responsibility of writers,” Azzopardi says. “We are living a scenario where the public sphere has been hijacked by parochial politics, neo-capitalism and media sensationalism. In Malta, writers and artists as a class have obliterated themselves out of social reality. They should start re-thinking about their transformative function.
“Writers should not accept the notion of innocent art, but face a situation where people are being atomised all the time. I am not talking about didactic art, for that reduces the power of subversion. What we need is a confrontational art, a literature which is relevant and not manipulated for academic or commercial ends.”
Briffa’s book tracks some of Azzopardi’s most intimate moments, together with his crises, physical ailments and mood swings that reveal the different facets of the man who despite everything, always comes out powerfully about any issue he feels strongly about.
Yet the man who abhors the confessionalist culture that produces monsters such as Tista’ Tkun Int and Arani Issa, allows Briffa some rare moments of introspection which only a very restricted circle of friends and lovers ever get to see.
“If I don’t control my moods,” he told him on one occasion, “I’ll tear up ninety per cent of all that I write, if not more.”
Besides documenting Azzopardi’s latest facet as harsh critic of the media establishment – particularly junk television – Travelling Between Shadows also makes reference to many of Azzopardi’s unpublished works and writings that so far have only been posted on his website.
Verging on the pornographic, Briffa describes them as ventures “into poetic prose, featuring a gallery of fictitious characters which can be traced to reflect a series of alter egos or multiple personae, often obsessed with the leit-motifs of sexuality and death.”
The book also marks the first ‘daring’ publication by Allied Newspapers, publisher of The Times and bastion of editorial conservatism.

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