Er­batax-il Vers

‘Er­batax-il Vers. Tes­sares kai deka sti­choi’

Malta Independent - - BOOKS - Ge­of­frey G. At­tard

Au­thor: Al­fred Grech Pub­lisher: A&M Print­ing, Gozo 2016 Ex­tent: 100 pages

Er­batax-il Vers (Four­teen Lines) is the name of the lat­est an­thol­ogy of po­ems writ­ten by renowned Goz­i­tan lawyer and writer Dr Al­fred Grech. This is the third an­thol­ogy that Grech has pub­lished. As a sub­ti­tle to his book, the au­thor re­ferred to clas­si­cal Greek. One of the main rea­sons might be due to the em­pha­sis he wanted to make on the fact that al­though his po­ems are writ­ten in a 14-line ver­sion, they are nei­ther Shake­spearean son­nets nor Pe­trar­chian ones. They are sim­ply po­ems writ­ten in free verses known in Mal­tese as vers maħlul through which he ex­presses his in­ner­most feel­ings and brings to light var­i­ous past ex­pe­ri­ences of his.

Er­batax-il Vers, sim­i­lar to his two pre­vi­ous an­tholo­gies, is in many ways a bi­og­ra­phy writ­ten through po­ems. I could sense the au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal as­pect com­ing up to the sur­face as I read through the po­ems. Per­haps this is one of the as­pects com­mon to al­most the en­tire col­lec­tion of 100 po­ems. It is in­ter­est­ing to no­tice that the po­ems carry no name or ti­tle. Only the page num­ber at the bot­tom of the page can serve as a ref­er­ence to the poem if one needs to re­fer to them. This can be in­ter­preted as a sign of con­ti­nu­ity; each poem con­tin­ues where the pre­vi­ous one has left off. Hav­ing said this, I have to say that each and every poem has its own pe­cu­liar char­ac­ter­is­tics and so the po­ems are sim­i­lar as much as they are dif­fer­ent. What is cer­tain is the fact that the poet has been wronged; he has been through a jour­ney of suf­fer­ing and sor­row. He has ag­o­nized on his feel­ings and knows he can take it no longer; he needs to bring out this in­ner strug­gle which has be­come part and par­cel of his own life­style. Noth­ing bet­ter than po­etry to ex­press this painful ex­is­tence of his.

Grech man­ages to form his thoughts and feel­ings and coin them in 14 lines with­out los­ing his sense of easy. He goes from mo­ments of hope to short pe­ri­ods of hope­less­ness; he ei­ther searches in vain for his lost lover, his other half or oth­er­wise finds her but is not able to com­mu­ni­cate his love to her in the way he wants. The poet also ex­pe­ri­ences mo­ments of void, ut­ter empti­ness (poem 48). Like bal­loons full of soap which come to noth­ing af­ter a short while, (poem 26), so his life seems to dis­solve into ex­is­ten­tial angst. In the ma­jor­ity of the cases, his po­ems, al­though con­sist­ing of a mono­logue, are in fact ad­dressed to his part­ner who is on the re­ceiv­ing end. They are al­most on the verge of tak­ing the form of a di­a­logue but his other half is not as re­cep­tive as she used to be. This is where de­pres­sion and frus­tra­tion come in; had it not been for his abil­ity to bring out his feel­ings preg­nant with ut­ter des­o­la­tion, he would have eas­ily suc­cumbed to des­per­a­tion.

The poet is def­i­nitely a Chris­tian one; ref­er­ences to bib­li­cal ci­ta­tions or episodes are to be no­ticed from time to time. He refers to the chal­ice of suf­fer­ing and to Si­mon of Cyrene as well as to the cross which the world has thrown upon him as he finds him­self on the cli­max of his des­ti­na­tion where he is even stripped of his hon­our (poem 43). In a pre­vi­ous poem, he might have been in­spired by Dun Karm’s Żagħżugħ ta’ De­j­jem as he speaks of a re­al­ity on which time does not leave its im­print. A ref­er­ence to Cer­vantes’ Don Quixote is also made in an­other poem (no. 51). When it comes to crit­i­cism of the mighty and the cor­rup­tion of the pow­ers that be, he leaves no stone un­turned to make it clear that he is not at all pleased with their amoral be­hav­iour (po­ems 55 & 86). In an­other poem he has hard words for the ju­di­ciary sys­tem which lacks sen­si­tiv­ity and seems de­void of hu­man­ity due to its short­age of hu­mil­ity (poem 59). A sense of ex­clu­sion and bore­dom, soli­tude and a lack of free­dom as life’s heavy weights work out their daily task are the feel­ings that char­ac­terise the life of the poet as he writes th­ese il­lus­tra­tive po­ems that re­flect the rai­son d’être of an en­tire life­time.

Dr Grech’s an­thol­ogy was de­signed by Ge­orge Mario At­tard; the book con­tains artis­tic sketches made by At­tard which help in giv­ing the an­thol­ogy a dif­fer­ent flavour. A short study by Carm Cachia, a re­tired Mal­tese teacher, pre­cedes the col­lec­tion of po­ems. Both the name of the book and the cover’s de­sign echo the Greek clas­si­cal pe­riod since the lat­ter rep­re­sents the Golden Ra­tio which was the pro­por­tion in gold that takes us back to Eu­clid’s ge­om­e­try. Er­batax-il Vers is an au­to­bi­og­ra­phy writ­ten in po­etic verses; who said that po­etry has no role to play? Al­fred Grech’s lat­est an­thol­ogy pro­vides a con­vinc­ing an­swer.

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