Poetry makes Malta a better place this weekend

Abderrahim Sail
Abderrahim Sail (photo by Virginia Monteforte)

Moroccan teacher and poet at this year’s edition of The Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, Abderrahim Sail, speaks to Clifford Jo Zahra about the power poetry has to make the world a better place. He strongly believes that life is a false version of the truth and one way to have it restored is by poetry.

You are a teacher. To what extent do the students inspire you?

I am a teacher working with teenagers, but I am also a poet, so of course they inspire me. I give them words, to which they reply with energy and another view of things. They make me see things the way they really are.

Is all poetry written?

Of course there is written poetry, but there is also spoken poetry. If you make use of any figurative language in speech, it’s like you are correcting nature, and improving it in the process.

Does it really fix troubled relationships? How?

Definitely. Poetry can be a form of solution because there is something spiritual in it and so it helps people to talk about what is visible and what is not. It makes them discuss everything around them. Poetry is not merely a solution, it is a necessity.

Are all people conscious of poetry around them?

If there is some kind of disagreement between two people and they know about poetry, then it is going to help them find a solution and discuss. But people who are in conflict, it is because they have no strong relationship with books or poetry itself.

You’ve highly contributed to the Èpisode Littèraire in Morocco, an intiative to bring the general public closer to Moroccan poets. How crucial is it to let the people out there know about what’s going on in a poet’s mind?   Isn’t it a personal endeavour?

This association brings ordinary people closer to the poets. They are usually Moroccan poets, but poets who write in Arabic but are from outside are welcome too. The problem is that many of the people have received so very little education that the language they use is the kind of ordinary language that you would solve problems of money and cars with. So we want to instill in them this curiosity about the more poetic expressions. This will make them reflect. There is no strong tradition of readership in Morocco, and the least we could do is bridge the gap.

Will it make their life easier?

We can’t guarantee that, but poetry could make them aware of another form of expression beyond the words they use in their everyday life. It makes them express themselves better, because poetry can heal, poetry can correct nature.

You’ve been to both Voix Vives, de Méditerranée en Méditerranée, and the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival. Why is your work present at literature festivals but absent on the internet?

When I started writing, my ambition was to publish a book, and for a long time I persevered in that. However, I then realized that I could still be a poet without having any book published. I started posting my writings on my Facebook page, and friends would share it. That is in fact how I got invited to participate in the French festival. However, I’ve now deactivated my Facebook account and also looking for new ways that would help me disseminate my writing online.

You write in Arabic. Ever attempted writing in French or in English? What makes you write in Arabic? Any social, political or religious motivations?

I would love to write in French and English but I do not feel confident enough. Therefore, what I do is translating my own works. That’s purely the reason why I primarily write in Arabic.

The interview was carried out in French and interpretations into English were provided by Nadia Mifsud, poet and translator. The 11th edition of The Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival is organised by Inizjamed in collaboration with Literature Across Frontiers. It kicks off this Thursday, 25th August, and runs until Saturday27th August, at Fort St Elmo, Valletta.