Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin (Sentinel, 2015)
Apart from poems about place, memory and desire, Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin comprises a long sequence that takes its inspiration from World War II as experienced by the Maltese (Rushing up to the Roof during an Air-Raid) and another sequence (You May Touch if You Like), which mostly speaks from the perspective of the Sleeping Lady, a Maltese fertility goddess known also as ‘The Fat Lady’ or ‘The Maltese Venus’. These poems are not nostalgic re-enactments of Paleolithic times but fiercely dramatic voices of the female experience in physical terms, exploring the poetics of body and consciousness. The archive material from the war sequence coincided with the poet’s own sense of self in connection to island cultures, the natural world, and the female imagination. Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin has thus allowed Abigail to explore the relationship between text, body, landscape and coastal geographies.
The poems about the coast and the natural world set up the reader’s sense of what Malta and the Maltese people were defending in WWII; the closing poems of Rushing up to the Roof during an Air Raid are consolidated by the goddess poems, which in turn serve to illuminate the female-experience poems that precede them since they both speak frequently to the landscape.
‘Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin is a sensual and passionate collection. It makes the language sing and the author shows a keen eye for focused detail that moves beyond mere picture-making into layers of symbolism and metamorphosis. Zammit displays a capacity for speaking through masks, shifting personae without losing a coherent sense of voice.’ Bob Beagrie & Andy Willoughby
The London Grip features a review of Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin, by Prof. Ivan Callus
‘For readers to whom the distinctiveness of Maltese poetry cannot but remain unsampled there arises the paradox that the country’s poetry is more availably present in the lines of writers working in English, among whom Zammit can lay claim to being the most accomplished. The linguistic circumstancing of Maltese literature and the anomalousness of its situatedness – in complex actuality and rich potentiality – carry an edge that could well force some level of rethinking upon familiar outlooks within postcolonialist critical theory and the rhetoric around ‘World Literature’. […] The more immediate issues in this review are, firstly, why Zammit’s verse might be noteworthy and, secondly, how her work is readable as a fiercely resolved exercise in accepted and resisted (dis)affiliations.’
‘She poetically reworks some of the most over-referenced aspects of Maltese history and culture, searing the conventions of mythographic labour with an individual, perhaps even individualist, irredentism in verse.’
‘Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin stands as an accomplished and intensely felt collection in its own right, bearing the voice of a woman – and a literature – deserving of readers.’
A review of Portrait of a Woman with Sea Urchin by Nick Cooke
‘I can honestly say that this has been among the richest and most beguilingly stimulating collections I have come across in recent years.’
‘That ‘shrapnelled into the sky’ neatly expresses my own emotions as I read this. I ended the book staring into space, in blank wonderment, for several minutes. I found it hard to separate my shock at the visceral extremity of war’s impact from my admiration at Zammit’s ability to portray it.’
(A teacher/trainer in a London FE College, Nick Cooke regularly reviews poetry for Sentinel Literary Quarterly and has recently contributed to London Grip and The High Window Journal. He is also a poet and is currently preparing a critical book celebrating poets published by independent houses, who he feels are often bolder and more interesting than many appearing on better-known imprints.)
‘These characters have their own dimension of feeling about them – a sort of rueful humour, a contrast to the confessional earnestness which is around a lot in poetry being written now. It is that wry angle of vision and the respect for the everyday that allows Zammit to get close up to so much awfulness.’ (Patrick Coldstream, CBE, and formerly, Commercial Editor of the Financial Times where he interviewed The Beatles.)
Voices From The Land Of Trees (Smokestack, 2007)
Voices From The Land Of Trees tells the story of Guatemala’s thirty-six years of civil war. It is a familiar tale of exploitation, poverty and repression in pursuit of ‘US interests’. But the ‘Silent Holocaust’ of Guatemala was extraordinarily brutal even by the standards of Central America, involving CIA-trained death-squads, the widespread use of torture and rape, the deliberate targeting of churches and the genocide of 200,000 Indians.
These poems are spoken by many different voices – mothers, missionaries, children, soldiers, guerrillas, Indians, students and journalists – each struggling to be heard above the sound of gunfire and weeping, each trying to break the silence. Voices From The Land Of Trees is a work of bold historical imagination and sympathy, a contribution to the process of recovering these terrible events from official silence and collective amnesia. It is a book about suffering and liberation, about the mysteries of Mayan culture and the beauty of the small country known as the ‘Land of Trees’.
‘great skill… extraordinary sensitivity, bravery and generosity’ (Penniless Press)
‘In this collection, to adapt Auden’s phrase, poetry makes something happen.’ (The South)
’empathy, compassion and insight’ (Stride)
‘beautiful moving and heart-wrenching poetry… a brave, bold and important piece of writing.’ (Small Press Review)
‘Voices From The Land Of Trees is a visceral and moving poem wrenched from Guatemala’s violent past: soldiers, peasants, workers, guerillas, priests, generals and journalists create a complex polyphony that discloses a brutal and unaccommodated history. Angry and compassionate, Abigail Zammit’s own voice discovers an excoriating yet redemptive timbre, confronting oppression and suffering whilst remaining true to moral complexity and ambivalence.’
Nofsi Spina, Nofsi Fjur Selvagg: Half Spine, Half Wild Flower
A bilingual pamphlet: English/Maltese
Abigail Ardelle Zammit has also translated a selection of poems written by the Maltese poet Gioele Galea. This bilingual edition is called Mal Waqgha tal-Weraq – A Scatter of Leaves