How I write – Marlene Saliba

I suppose how I write depends on why and what I write… Usually I write poems and, on a more prosaic note, essays on peace and human rights education.

At times my poems are spontaneously inspired by those people who are dear to me or by natural objects I see, such as a hill, a tree or a bunch of wild flowers. It is as if they are the real authors of the poems! I stand still, sit down and feel the words and sentences as if emanating from the individuals or the objects themselves. The poems may otherwise easily get written later when the emotion is recollected in tranquility.

I consider such poems that somehow write themselves to be my best. Wherever I go I always carry a biro, pencil and a piece of paper in my bag or pocket in case a poem decides to come my way. Particular poems or lines come with a melody, so I try to write down the notes quickly so as not to forget them or keep humming the tune till I am home and grab my guitar and identify better the notes and chords.

On other occasions I have first an idea and it takes days or even weeks to develop and start evolving into a poem. In such cases I need time to think in silence. This is also frequently the case when I write essays on literary themes or to promote causes such as those of peace, environmental conservation, gender equality and other human rights I feel strongly about. Such tasks prompt me to read and I do my best to meticulously research the topic of my focus. I become immersed and organised in my writing, plan and find a suitable logical structure for my ideas and try to flow into a style that pulsates with my mind and heart. When I run out of ideas I usually go for a walk or drink a mug or two of Earl Grey tea to feel revived. I must admit that I hate deadlines as I really appreciate enough time for revision.

In my new bilingual book of poetry on the prehistoric temple people of the Maltese Islands, to be published later this year, I employed these different ways of writing. While the majority of the poems mostly wrote themselves, my foreword on the social and cultural background to this period was based on researched information. I have been following the various publications on our archaeological heritage for many years. In the section of poems orientated in Megalithic Malta and Gozo I was careful to depict the natural and built environment of the period. The setting is always of particular importance to an author.

When I write a poem in Maltese – my favourite language – I cannot wait to translate it into English (and vice-versa). It is as if my poems have to exist in both languages to feel really finished. This could be related to the type of education I received at school, where I had to write hundreds of lines repeatedly stating, “I must speak English at school”, whenever an English nun caught me chatting to my friends in Maltese in class or even in the playground. Yet I do not believe that my desire to immediately translate my Maltese poems into English really stems from such punishments. Rather, it springs from a very fond bond with this language too. In fact, at University I chose to study and to graduate in English literature and I have enjoyed teaching the subject for many years.

I was born in Sta Venera and when I was nine years old my family moved to Floriana, where I spent another nine years and where I first started writing poetry. Santa Lucia, near Ta’ Garnaw Valley, has been my place of residence for more than 40 years – a lovely, quiet area for writing. But I still need that occasional visit to Gozo, the magic island of my Saliba ancestors which speaks to my soul. I relish those hours in silence in the Neolithic temples of our archipelago that make me feel closer to my roots. And I often meditate by the sea or under a starry sky to keep more awake my sense of wonder at the might and beauty of nature. I find that such leisure pursuits can stimulate my writing – whether it comes, in John Keats’s words, “as naturally as the leaves to a tree” or whether it is diligently and laboriously woven together like a hand-made fabric.

Along the years, routine work to earn a living did not often permit me the freedom to enter for days on end into the type of mental wavelength that my writing required. Now that I have just become a senior citizen and a pensioner, I hope to have the time to work on publishing more of my many poems and other writings which have been in my drawers for years. I look forward to help to produce a couple of CDs with my poems sung by one or two local singers. And, of course, I really wish to finally have the possibility of regularly experiencing deep writing wavelengths for months on end. While being a pensioner means being elderly, with its many drawbacks, I most sincerely hope that when it comes to writing, this autumnal passage of my life will prove to be an asset.

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