‘Erbatax-il Vers. Tessares kai deka stichoi’
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.