Maria Grech Ganado – Video Interview

Date of Birth: 21/02/1943

Where do you live: Għargħur

Status: Separated

Star Sign: Pisces

Occupation: Writer

Maria Grech Ganado was educated at the University of Malta, as well as at Cambridge and Heidelberg. She worked as a full-time lecturer in the English Department of the University of Malta, until she got married. She then raised three children, taught intermittently as a part-time teacher in various secondary schools and at University, before resuming full-time lecturing at the Junior College.

Maria Grech Ganado no longer writes articles and she rarely translates poetry but she still writes poetry in both Maltese and English. She has published four Maltese collections and two English ones, together with a pamphlet of translations and her work has been translated into about ten languages.

She has won two national book awards, and was placed amongst the winners with her English poetry abroad. In 2000, she was awarded the MQR, and in 2005, she co-organised a seminar with the Welsh-based LAF and Inizjamed. She is currently working on a new English poetry collection and one on meta-fiction.

We all need someone to inspire and to believe in us. Who is your inspiration?

I feel there is a difference between someone who is inspirational and someone who is a muse. I do have what I call ‘inspirational crushes’, and they can be both male and female, or a character from a book. However, my inspiration can come from nature or animals, and a lot of it comes from existential issues, such as questions raised about the state of the world. I am also very interested in meta-physical issues and in philosophical questions.

When it comes to those who have supported me, in my academic life, it was father. Then, in my poetry, Marlene Saliba was the one who passed on some of my Maltese poetry to Peter Serracino Inglott. He published four of my works and then Oliver Friġġieri published another seven. I published my first book thanks to the encouragement of Bernard Micallef. Otherwise, there is my cousin Joan, and my students, who enjoy my reading. They give me a lot of satisfaction.

What was the first writing piece you ever wrote?

At the age of eleven, we had a school exercise and I wrote a very short book in English. I also used to write religious poetry, so much so that the nuns used to think that I had a vocation. I wrote my first Maltese poem, Gaea, with a fever of about 104⁰C and I still consider it one of my best poems. It is a feminist perspective on the environment. I was quite old at the time but I had a lot going on in my life and I had just started to read about quantum physics.

How do you choose the identity / role of your characters?

Though many poets would not be able to answer this, because characters mostly come into prose, I do use characters a lot. I started with dramatic monologues, where I imagined what certain mythical, literary or biblical characters would say.

I am happiest though, when I invent my own characters. One of which, was called Mara, with the obvious play on words, for my poem called Inmate, in which she is in an asylum. This poem was published in one of my collections, called Ribcage, which is now out of print, but which I consider a far better collection to another collection I have, called Cracked Canvas.

In Maltese, there is Gaea, who is the goddess of the earth and she speaks in the first person. Otherwise, I invent women, who are mostly nameless and sometimes I am a male character. However, even when the characters come from literature, I do not choose them, but they inspire me to develop their character into my ideas.

Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” How do you feel about challenges?

I don’t think I can function without challenges. My writing started as a therapy to survive during a rather critical psychological period in my life. I am bi-polar, and I have highs and I have times when I am depressed. When I am manic, I don’t mind, because that is when I am most creative. However, when I was depressed, what kept me going, was the writing.

I came back to Malta when I was five years old, I was brought up in an English-speaking school and I lectured in English. So when I started writing poetry in Maltese, I was very secretive about it. I cannot stand people who are too fanatical about one language or the other, and I showed that it is possible to write in both.

How would you describe your writing process?

Translating is a completely different process. Whereas with poetry, I get an idea or a rhythm, I write whatever comes to mind, and then I work on it. With translation, if I am in the mood to write, it is the worst time for translating. This is because, apart from imposing my own interpretation, I cannot find the right words. As a result, I have translations of which I am ashamed.

Nowadays, I no longer translate Maltese poetry since there are translators, but Emmanuel Mifsud is the only poet I still translate. However, with him, I usually have to work to tight deadlines. I find that if I have time to translate, it is easier even though I have become very used to his style.

Do you have a special place that you solely use for writing and creative projects?

No. I usually write on my laptop in my airy, light-filled living-room in Għargħur, which I love. Otherwise no, but I carry notebooks everywhere with me. I write during the day nowadays, as I try to reserve the night for sleep.

Literature in Malta, what’s your take on it?

It has come a long way. There was a time when the themes were country, family and religion, then we had a reaction to that in the 60’s. Nowadays, people travel a lot and there are a number of festivals which help in the promotion of their work. In my time, I did not have this help, although my work has been recognised and my poetry has been translated in a number of  languages.

But we’ve come such a long way, mostly because the themes have grown vast, due to travelling and increased interaction, of which we need more. We also need a Centre for the Arts in Malta, which should not be limited to St James Cavalier.

The only constraint I find is that the Maltese language is the only thing which we cannot share, unless it is translated, which is happening now. The use of the actual language itself has come a long way. It no longer states things but is used to mould patterns and sounds to get a message through the poems. I think very highly of Maltese literature and there are very good critics, as well.

Why should one read books?

Why should one breathe? Unfortunately, we live in a generation which is more concerned with learning information, facts, skills and crafts rather than reading literature. I believe that through literature, especially novels, you can learn history, sociology, psychology and philosophy. Whilst poetry, also teaches you how to condense information.

Apart from this, I believe that reading books makes you a more compassionate person, since it teaches you empathy. However, I think that reading is something which has been neglected a lot recently because of science and technology. Through literature, you learn a lot of things whilst also being entertained.