Micallef was born on the 31st of May, 1949 in Floriana and subsequently moved to the neighbouring capital city of Valletta, where she spent the rest of her life. She was an award-winning poet and playwright, and one of a handful of women writers who imbued their work with a strong feminist outlook.
Female artists faced particular challenges. The prevailing attitude was that art produced by women was either substandard, frivolous or, most likely, both; and that women shouldn’t aspire to apply themselves wholly to any art form as this would interfere with conventional matrimonial and maternal duties. It was against this disheartening backdrop that Micallef worked and lived.
Micallef’s frustration at this state of affairs is fairly evident. In her poem “Meta l-Gawwi Jittajjar Jgħajjat”, she takes a fictitious male companion to task over his position in a social system which privileges him by virtue of his gender. She sees herself as his plaything (“pupa”) whose sole duty is to serve and to amuse him when in reality all she wants is for them to be equal partners.
Micallef believed that men and women are fundamentally equal and that it is social norms that drive a wedge between the sexes. In “Met’inti Tkellimt…” she says that light casts a shadow between them but that in darkness, both men and women are the same. Many times, Micallef’s rage was directed at these conventions which abetted and enforced the divide between men and women.
Nevertheless, she always stopped short of exculpating men. Even though they too were the products of the same unjust system, they needed to be held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof. Micallef yearned for a companion, one with whom she could talk earnestly and passionately. But then in “Profetika” she doesn’t hold back from bitterly reprimanding an acquaintance, telling him to at least be courteous enough to look at her when she’s talking, even if he is unable to understand or refuses to pay attention to what she’s telling him.
Her writing suggests that it was difficult to isolate the system from the man and vice versa. Micallef was known to be a devout Catholic and yet she held God and Christ to the same standards as her human companions. She simultaneously glorified God and censured him for his silence, while in “Fit-Triq tal-Empirew”, she rallied against Christ, accusing him of not understanding women.
Micallef was a paradoxical figure whose complex and tormented relationship with the world was expressed in some of the best poetry in Maltese literature.
Written by Noel Tanti
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul