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“The flow of my writing journeys are like winding streams”

Interview with Maltese writer Simone Inguanez

Simone Inguanez, a poet, translator and arts strategist from Malta, said the writing processes for her acclaimed work do not follow a particular set path, but rather meander like a winding stream.


“In truth, I cannot say I have a fixed writing process. I have – variations – on a writing process. The stimuli, and points of departure, and flow – of my writing journeys – tend to take shapes and forms. Like a winding stream,” Ms Inguanez said, speaking ahead of her appearance at the 6th EU-China International Literary Festival.


“Reminiscence is one fertile source for me. Also: dreams, a song, a story, the moment, words themselves – They all work their charm on my senses. I think it’s more about unleashing one’s voice at the moment. Recording it in a journal. Going back to it. Obsessing with it till I am satisfied – with how it tastes and sounds, with how it moves: gushing and coming to standstills, with the movie playing in my head. Till I pick up the work again and re-read it (loudly). And, sure enough, I will feel the urge to retouch my punctuation here and there, rethink a line break.”


So how does she approach new endeavours?


“Very often, it is more a case of finding myself seduced by a theme/a project, than myself consciously approaching a project. What brings works together for me, then, is usually the recurrence of certain themes/tones/connecting elements – seeing patterns forming, some sort of landscape, narration, exciting contrasts,” she said.


People and silence are two of the expansive themes Ms Inguanez likes to explore in her work, themes she refers to as “irresistible tempters, generous muses”, adding she finds people “infinitely intriguing”.


“Their faces, their sounds, their hues, their stories waiting to be told and retold, the magic of what they bring to me and the fusion with all I carry. The current widespread distancing and solitude keeps on staring me in the face. If people are not there, I have to imagine them, bring them back, converse with them in my head, listen carefully to their silences, dance in the spaces between the words, between when they were there and now that they are (gone),” she said.


“And silence – silence is such a curious being. It can be happy. It can be sad. It can give you lots of space to discover, to explore, to be. It can be too loud. It can suffocate you crazy.


“Of course, the challenge is to be aware of your tendencies as a writer. As to challenge them, tease them, and be careful to create newly and differently every time – particularly when savouring ingredients that one could hardy stay away from since forever.”


Her poetry collection Part Woman Part Child (ftit mara ftit tifla), which Ms Inguanez describes as an “extremely intimate poetry collection” was very well received by critics and readers alike.


“It is an exploration of the profane–&–sacred, the pleasure–pain–&–awe, earth–water–fire, shifting boundaries. It is a celebration: of self and body and of language. A playful reclamation of own space,” she said.


As a multi-lingual writer who also engages with the work of other poets, she emphasises the distinction between translation and transcreation.


“In the field of creative expression particularly, we speak of transcreation – rather than translation. And I find that few acts compare to the intimacy of transcreation. It bears, scrutinises, takes in, helps – a work don different attire, breathes into its nostrils a lukewarm breath, lends it a friendly voice, dances it to other rhythms, opens windows and doors for it, introduces it to the family, and they share and exchange.


“Transcreating is writing. It is writing again. And the outcome is new writing, a literary work in its own right/write.


“Beyond that, I am very much aware that inhabiting another writer’s work marks me – and my subsequent creations, more or less – for life. It is part of being human, perhaps – part of connecting on such a deep level. If experiences have an inherent tendency to shape us, to some extent or another, then getting into someone’s shoes and walking around in them is bound to leave deeper marks.


Ms Inguanez also works with culture more broadly as an arts strategist and is Diversity & Communities Associate at Arts Council Malta and has served on the Maltese Language Council since its creation in 2005.


“At the Arts Council, I work on strategy development and funding. In my initial role, I focused primarily on language arts. Back then, the Arts Council was designing the first arts funding programmes locally. And I had the pleasure to coordinate the work giving birth to Spreading Words – the first specialised Maltese funding programme aimed at making Maltese literature accessible in other languages.


“In my current role, I focus on diversity and sustainable community development. This has given me the privilege of working very closely with communities, artists, and policymakers – promoting diverse narratives and expressions, advocating for inclusivity, supporting and community engagement and good practices, and helping to shape cultural strategy.


“Of course, all we do is informed by all we carry – the experiences, the passions, the skillsets in our baggage. In this regard, I find that my creative expression, my background in law, political sciences, language – feed into my work in strategy. Likewise, my experience in strategy feeds back into my creative expression,” she said.


And Malta’s picturesque Mediterranean landscape is another constant source of inspiration for her creative work, she said.


“Nowadays I live in Naxxar, a small city in the Northern Region of Malta, with a population of around 15,000. Legend has it that the people of Naxxar were amongst the first to help the shipwrecked, including Saint Paul, when the ship he was on went aground on the rocks.


“Before I moved to Naxxar, I lived for some years in Kalkara. On Watermill Street to be exact. And nothing ever will compare to that daily exit from Kalkara gate, to Fortini, the waterfront, the black tunnel, every morning. Nothing ever … or, maybe, only the memory of the washing hanging on the roof – watching over the Grand Harbour.


And water is, in more ways than one, ever-present in my writings. The sound of water, the smell, the way it immerses–separates–&–connects people at one go, its fluidity – It is very much an integral part of who we are as islanders/Maltese people, a defining part of our psyche – which explains why water has a habit of spilling into my verses, images, my figures of speech,” she said.


At the 6th EU-China International Literary Festival Simone Inguanez will join Swedish poet Helena Boberg, and Chinese poet Dai Weina to discuss their writing lives and ‘Linguistic Richness: Poets on the Page’.