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Charlo Camilleri:
Horizons, 2016.

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 for this collection, but the poetic friar has appropriated this behaviour, often associated with subcultures, to best define his poetry.

The poet goes beyond all the perspectives usually associated with tattoos. He employs the art of tattooing symbolically, 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 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 helps him distinguish and decide how to live up to those 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 divinises them, one comes to appreciate the poet’s authenticity and strength of will. He won’t shroud himself in 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.

His poetry is not an empty act – in it, he recovers its original inspirational and meditative essence

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. Here, 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. In the case of Ecce Homo, he cautions us against this, knowing that desires make the world behave in paradoxical ways.

This leads one to question to whom does the poet gaze, for in that vision he finds understanding and comfort. The answer lies 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 for 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 concerns himself with existential questions. Tniebri , L-Imnara and Thewdin allow us to see how inspiration emerges within this dark void of rumination.

Only at the end of the collection does one encounter 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 with 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 are the leftovers of the wounding upon the body. A tattoo becomes finite and so does his own poetry.

No wonder, in Lil Alla ta’ Missirijietna, the poet doesn’t want to startle God. Within the cauldron of God’s sleep there is an infinite poetical inspiration that frightens and at the same time attracts the poet.

Ultimately, every poem finds its meaning in one vital poem, entitled Tattwaġġ. This is the enigmatic tattoo that bring 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.

The collection is a multifaceted, spiritual deviance. 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 an empty act – in it, he recovers its original inspirational and meditative essence.

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