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Christopher Felix Bezzina

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“Tattwaġġi”
Critical Appraisal

“Tattwaġġi” is an inspirational reserve full of existential wealth, a peculiar title and radical energy. What the poet presents to us becomes an invitation to suffuse with his poetical perception and imagination. The title is an intriguing aspect of this collection, but the poetic friar has appropriate this deviant behaviour to best define his poetry.

Emerging from the need to be desirable by others, oftentimes tattoos are viewed either as an act that upholds disobedience, and so disregarded to safeguard social reputation or as a representation containing alluring and erotic connotations which attract attention. Both perspectives concern themselves with self-imageries, but various academic researchers yield other important dynamics. Behind the act of tattooing, there is the need for self-authenticity, aesthetics, healing and empowerment. And equally important, is their failure to be valid in meaning when they do not contain a personal symbolic representation.

The poet gathers all these perspectives together and transcends beyond. He employs symbolically the art of tattooing and marks his personal milestones, relationships, struggles, and the radical identity fluctuations through them. His whole person becomes the metaphoric body that tattoos are designed upon. The art and technique of tattooing is captured and transformed into a personal spiritual narrative.

Each poem performs a tattoo, and placed all into perspective thematic groupings can be perceived. What follows are some interpretative patterns which in themselves are only subjective. Hopefully, they will not inhibit the broader spirit of the poet’s imagination.

One encounters repetitively the tattoo of initiation. “Fil-Ġnien taż –Żebbuġ” and “Stennija” are filled with expectations, waiting and the inner murmurs associated with anticipation. One intuitively senses those inescapable, or maybe, desired life-changing events that will mark him forever. His held position is widened, his capacity is overflown, and his heart is being stretched to a point of no return. The use of phrases like, “daqt il-waqt jasal”, indicates not only his inability to control time and consequences but also helping himself distinguish and decide how to live up to those kairotic moments in life. One of the faculties he equips himself with is, the capacity to be receptive towards God. This motif is exposed in “Penuwel’” and “Kenosis” among others.

A set of tattoos closely associated with his vocation are the tattoos of ministry. “Strada Teatro”, “Quddiesa” and a series of other short poems, which also act as maxims, invite one to appreciate the inner dilemmas of the priestly poet. In a world that either scorns such religious roles or highly divinizes them, one comes to appreciate the poet’s authenticity and strength of will. He won’t shroud himself with hypocrisy and become a puppeteer or a clown. On the contrary, his perspective is beyond himself, towards others, the world and the emptiness in people’s hearts.

The poet’s spiritual bedrock is the continuous process of purification, great acts of love and a keen flame of hope. He either bluntly shares this movement, as in the poem “Talba”, or employs what I term the tattoo of irony. Two indicative poems are “Qalulna” and “Nitbaħna f’Ruma”. Concerned to live for that which lasts forever, and concerned that many invest their energy in that which doesn’t, the poet not only redeems himself through his poetry but also advocates for a purified desire free from illusionary conveniences and in touch with reality. Frenzy shows, as in the case of “Ecce Home”, he cautions against, knowing that desires make the world behave in paradoxical ways.

This leads one to question to whom does the poet gazes; for in that vision he finds understanding and comfort. The answer lays in poems like, “Visio”, “Lil Alla ta’ Missirijietna” and “Milied”. His gaze falls on Christ. There he understands something that remains secretive; tattoos which are not meant for onlookers or exhibition. They become reflective mirrors of oneself in the Infinite. These hidden tattoos are more important than the other tattoos. They penetrate deeper than just the conscious mind and reflect the gaze of the infinite. But this is not an easy task. The figure of the dark night that blinds and obscures is a consequence that wounds the vision. Many times the poet is engulfed in thoughts and concerning himself with existential questions. “Tniebri”,”L-Imnara” and “Thewdin” allow us to see how inspiration emerges within this dark void of rumination.

‘Jitnissel go fija ħsieb
Li jwelled it-tifkira
Tal-wirt imwiegħed
Lil ulied il-bniedem”

Only at the end of the collection one encounters a matured poet. He abandons the need to comprehend and simply gazes. Gazing is just enough. Gazing becomes a meaning in itself, and the vision is restored (Il-Mira).

It would not be accurate to associate the various dark nights that the poet’s experiences as metaphorical tattoos. On the contrary, they are to be related to the ink used for tattooing. Only when the ink touches, penetrates and wounds the skin can it be named and called a tattoo. What is visible to the eye is the leftovers of the wounding upon the body. A tattoo becomes finite and so his own poetry. No wonder in “Lil Alla ta’ Missirijietna” the poet doesn’t want to startle God from sleeping. Within the cauldron of God’s sleep, there is an infinite poetical inspiration that frightens and at the same time attracts the poet.

Other tattoos that can be clustered together are the:

  • tattoos of femininity. Poems like, “Mara tad-dmugħ”, “Mimlija bil-Grazzja” and “Fuq Stella Maris” reveal his sensitivity to the feminine figures in his life;
  • eschatological tattoos. One meets an animated imagination in poems like “Awissu 1997”, “Nostos” and “Mare magnum” dealing with the end of times; and,
  • romanticised tattoos. Evidently vivid in most of his Italian poems that either apply romanticised tropes or have their subject matter the joys of love.

Ultimately every poem finds its meaning in one vital poem, entitled “Tattwaġġ”. This is the enigmatic tattoo that brings together all the other fragmented parts in a unifying uniqueness, and it is the poem that specifically reveals who the tattoo artist is. The poem moves in a minimalistic vertical fashion revealing the relationship between object and subject. This is not only an act of identity solidification, but essentially this is a tattoo of contraction; the pact between the I and the All that manifests the joys, pains, and duties of this relationship. Through this relationship, the poet comes to read something anew, and the rigid vertical poem transforms itself into ascension. A pledge is formed revealing the willpower of the poet. The struggle and endurance in faith and the remembrance of the wounds become, for the poet, the assured guarantee that he is tattooed in eternity. Hence, there are two tattoo artists, the All upon the I, and the I upon the All. Following this poem, a new window has been opened in the mind of the poet. Subsequent poems give a taste to where the poet is leading himself.

The collection becomes a multifaceted spiritual deviance from that which is already commonly deviant. Firstly, he is deviant for making the profane sacred; healing the judgements associated with tattoos and making holy that which is disdained. Secondly, his poetry acts as a rebuke for those who take for granted their faith and feel superior to others. And thirdly, he is a deviant contemporary poet because his poetry is not a productive empty act, but he recovers its original inspirational and meditative essence.


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Any material on the blog cannot be published all or in part except with prior consent of the author. Feel welcome to contact me if you wish to publish on this website, or to publish my work on other writing platforms.

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