One of Cassar’s distinctive traits is the use of the hendecasyllable, which has important echoes in the Maltese poetic landscape, most notably in the work of National Poet Dun Karm Psaila, who used it extensively to explore religious themes. The title of Cassar’s award-winning poetry book, Erbgħin Jum (Forty Days, EDE Books, 2017), in fact references a crucial episode in the Maltese religious calendar: the forty days and forty nights that Jesus Christ spent fasting in the desert, enacted symbolically every year in the course of the forty days of fasting before Easter. Cassar uses this chapter in Christ’s life to portray his own spiritual journey – a harrowingly candid look at a childhood spent alongside an abusive father, but one which ultimately proves to be a cathartic experience that invests him with agency and purpose.
In life and work, Cassar is a wanderer, an explorer, a bard, an emissary; but never a fugitive. It is no coincidence that his long poem Passaport (Passport, 2009; re-issued in 2019 with EDE) speaks of a world with no boundaries, one in which one’s legs and one’s spirit are free to roam. Freedom of movement and the migratory spirit take a tangible linguistic form in his anthology of sonnets written in Maltese, English, Italian and Spanish verse, published in 2008 as Mużajk: an exploration in multilingual verse (Edizzjonijiet Skarta). Once again, Cassar crosses boundaries and celebrates unobstructed mobility by moving between languages within the poems themselves. The complexity of meaning and the musicality of sound transcend the restrictions imposed by the vernacular of any of the particular languages.
Cassar also champions performance poetry and he has participated in numerous poetry festivals across the globe. The event held to launch Erbgħin Jum, in which he performed the book in almost its entirety accompanied by a live band, will definitely be remembered as a milestone in the Maltese literary scene.
Biography written by Noel Tanti
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul