Katarsi, a collection of poems by Alfred Palma,
Self-published at Progress Press; 2020.

Chev. Alfred Palma, the poet, author and translator par excellence, who courageously tackled and managed the Maltese translation of Dante’s Divina Commedia, Shakespeare’s 38 plays and sonnets, besides other great works by Oscar Wilde, Voltaire, DH Lawrence and Thomas Mann, has now once again turned to his own poetry, after Preludji, published in 1996. This time, in Katarsi, he has collected poems he wrote between 1996 and 2016. And here, more than ever, Palma has fully displayed his love for literature and for art in general, indeed the love of beauty, being one of Malta’s best poets. 

One may ask: What is poetry? I consider poetry as concentrated imagination, built on experience, written in a language that can be understood via words, sounds, rhythm and, maybe, rhyme; in brief, in a whole world of literary variations.

Every poet has his own individual path through which he dares to walk to expose himself, his poetry, what he thinks of poetry itself – the princess of literature. There is a huge difference between the poem The Wreck of the Deutschland of the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and The Daffodils by William Wordsworth. For there is magic and magic, poet and poet, style and style.

Having gone thoroughly through Katarsi, I noted that this time Palma has ventured into even wider plains, in a book very neatly printed by Progress Press, containing various illustrations and 92 poems spread over 122 pages, a few bordering on the cynical and the delightfully comic; others sad to the point of tears. 

But what has Palma written? In his preface, he says: “Once again, dear reader, you’re reading my lines. This time I will not lead you into my soul; I did that in Preludji. But in Katarsi you shall know (a bit better) what I feel for others.” He often involves himself in meditation (Ranċiż, Preludju in la Minore); on various occasions special mention of friends in different phases of life: (Lil Grace Pace; L-Omm; Imma għaliex?); he respects nature, hates violence, loves animals: (Karba ta’ Siġra; U Paċi fl-Art; Lill-Kelb tiegħi Skippy); religion has also a good hold on him:  (Ħlomt; U Paċi fl-Art). Various other sentiments and emotions prevail. All utterly human!

The cherries on this delicious cake are surely the 21 beautiful classical sonnets, which twinkle like stars in Palma’s laden sky

He often enjoys resorting to simple lines: (Talba ta’ Tifla; Rużarju; Lilek), although these never sound puerile or commonplace, and still reflect his poetic prowess.

But the cherries on this delicious cake are surely the 21 beautiful classical sonnets, which twinkle like stars in Palma’s laden sky. Among them:  Lil Emanuel Attard Cassar; Lil Mons. Amante Buontempo; Lil Ħaż-Żabbar, Lil Karmen Azzopardi and others. 21 sonnets in all, all of sheer beauty!

Curiously enough, there is one poem in English in this collection: To my Dying Mother (a translation of Lil Ommi Moribonda). Here Palma surpasses himself in his strongly emotional and despairing expression of grief. Truly the pain of a devoted son facing the death of his mother.

Palma makes very good use of rhyme; I believe that rhyme embellishes poetry, as well as its magic. One may beg to differ, of course. But that is only a matter of opinion, and every poet, artist, sculptor or whoever has his or her own modes of expression. Modern poets may not (fully) agree with my contention; but let’s agree to differ!

The Maltese national poet, Dun Karm, wrote the  beautiful poem Non Omnis Moriar, words left to posterity by the Latin poet Horatio. Other poets did like Dun Karm, namely Samuel Beckett and the Polish poetess Suzanna Ginczanka. And so did Palma: his moving poem Tiqafx fuq Qabri u Tibki fully relates to Horatio’s philosopical words. “Għax hemm m’hemm xejn,” says Palma; “hemm lili ma ssibnix,” and he ends this beautiful poem with the lines “Tiqafx fuq qabri u tibki,  tibkix... għax jien ma mittx.” For life withers and dies; but poetry thrives!

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