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Ħassartek: A First Of Its Kind Maltese Book Is Erasing Words And Adding Meaning

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Sometimes leaving a blank space holds more power than loading the page with words. Artist, author and poet Matthew Schembri knows how words can affect his readers, which is why he’s reworked his first publication and original book, Stessi into a series of erasure poems.

Ħassartek digs deep into what the core meaning of Stessi is – allowing Schembri to use his voice in a brand new way. 

Exploring the power that a purple camera holds, Stessi follows the journey of “the protagonist”, whose world is about to be turned upside down.  Stessi belongs to the fiction genre, whilst navigating coming of age relationships.

Using Stessi as the starting point, Schembri re-visited his words with the aim to truly strip his first work down to the core. He knew that he could extract even more from his initial idea by looking at it from a different angle. 

Ħassartek is the very first Maltese literary work that experiments with the erasure poetry genre. 

Erasure poetry, also known as blackout poetry, is a kind of poetry where the poet takes a body of work, be it a book or a short story, and creates a new piece from it. Blacking out, erasing, and even drawing on the pages of the book are common practices of erasure poetry. 

Video by Johann Caruana

By removing words, the poet is creating a completely unique work from what they’re given. This leniency with language creates a playful way for artists or poets to take what already exists, and explore how they can alter it. Erasure poetry gives them the opportunity to experiment with predetermined language. 

Malta’s first-ever erasure poems book, Ħassartek, formed part of The Malta Book Festival 2021’s events. Saturday 6th November 2021 saw Schembri speaking with Glen Calleja and Raphael Vella about his erasure poetry project. Ħassartek consists of 231 erasure poems which have all been created out of pages from Stessi.

The creation of Ħassartek was supported by Arts Council Malta – giving the Maltese poet the opportunity to try out various forms. 

In Ħassartek, Schembri deals with themes close to his heart. Family relationships, mental health and coming out are all ideas that emerged while Schembri was looking for ways to strip down his initial work. 

Photo by Giola Cassar

Photo by Giola Cassar

Dealing with such relevant themes – Schembri has opened up the conversation around mental health and the process of coming out. 

If you’ve missed Ħassartek’s debut at The Malta Book Festival 2021, you can still experience Schembri’s latest publication at his exhibition happening at Studio Solipsis in Rabat. Having the same name of his latest book, ‘Ħassartek’ this exhibition will be opening up the conversation around Schembri’s erasure poems.

Studio Solipsis will be welcoming guests for a whole month – from the 26th November 2021 until the 26th December 2021. 

Visitors have the opportunity to take in the works of art by viewing the more timid, introspective side of Schembri’s works.

The showcase is going to include an art installation consisting of 231 rubbers/erasers. Each rubber is going to have a word from every page in the book printed on it, thus removing more words from the pages of the book.

Exhibition goers having the chance to take a rubber home with them. This concept dismantles or erases the installation in a way. Moving on to use the rubber in everyday life after the exhibition also symbolises the slow destruction of the printed word and the object printed on it at the same time.

Both ‘Stessi’ and ‘Ħassartek’ books will be available at a special price following the exhibition. 

You can get your hands on a physical copy of Ħassartek by contacting Schembri himself via email at [email protected]

Matthew Schembri, through Malta’s debut erasure poetry work, is showing us how to be and not be precious with our words. Taking something you have produced and viewing it in a new light opens up so many different paths your words can follow. Via Ħassartek, Schembri also manages to speak up about taboo topics in an avant-garde way. 

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Greta's a creative person who loves to lend a hand to anyone in need. She's also quite quick when it comes to writing ... and talking. You can see what shenanigans she gets up to on her personal instagram @littlegretz or shoot her an email at [email protected]!
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Matthew Schembri

Matthew Schembri (b. 1993) is a visual artist and an author based in Malta. He earned a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) in Digital Arts in 2017 and a Diploma in Maltese Literature in 2020. In 2016 he was invited as an artist-resident at the Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts (VCCA). Schembri won Divergent Thinkers 04 (2015), The Literary Contest of Novels for Youth (2016), Shifting Contexts (2019) and was named The Young Artist of the Year in 2017 by Arts Council Malta. In addition to Malta, some of his artworks were showcased in the Netherlands, Germany, Austria and the United States. His debut novel, Stessi, was published in 2018.

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