Zammit was born in 1954, in Valletta. He started off his studies in architecture, only to move into the realm of philosophy. He began teaching Classical, Greek and Renaissance philosophy yet he is best known for introducing Sanskrit, Indian and Far-Eastern thought to the University of Malta. His poetic cycles are very much touched by these merging influences, along with literature and the philosophy of non-dualism (advaita).
Imma Ħajt Azzari Għalina (But a Steel Wall for Us, 1974), was the first proto-post-structuralist prose-poetry publication in collaboration with Paul Sant Cassia. It was left as an impromptu piece, left as it came – from the heart. Zammit always combines the arts with his works, being wary of aesthetic presentation. Even Fil-Waqt li l-Qalb(h)a Tħares (While Her Heart Watches and As the Heart Watches over Itself, 1978), with Norbert Attard, was presented as 9 cycles and 3 prints in a beautifully made box-cover. The latter work was translated into English and it was the first attempt to transliterate a Maltese text into English.
Two important works which encapsulate his mindscape and soundscape are Mireddien (2003) and Għana ’l Hena (Odes to Bliss, 2005). Mireddien is a collection of mantras, presented as a deck of cards. The reader is invited to freely shift between one card and another, even mid-verse, to create new poetic soundscapes. This work was translated into Italian. Għana ’l Hena is a cycle of 35 poems all inspired from a period in which Zammit was reading the psalms from P. P. Saydon’s Maltese translation of the Bible, Shakespeare’s sonnets and the Bhagavad Gita. These works are called cycles as they are meant to be read out loud, sotto voce altogether; listened to.
Zammit is also known for his Maltese translations, most significantly that of the Bhagavad Gita (2008) from Sanskrit. He translated many plays, along with Plato’s Apology as L-Apoloġija (1995) and more recently 8 cycles from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, as Il-Metamorfosi 1: L-Ewwel Ġabra ta’ Siltiet (2018).
Sound is very important to Zammit, and this is apparent from the way he plays with sounds, words, and their meanings. Mireddien: fi skiethom (Mantras: in their own silence) also Mireddien: f’sikkithom (Mantras: in their sanity) where “mireddien” is a word coined by Zammit and implies going over things in one’s mind or repeating them verbally, thereby becoming that by which this happens – loosely a mantra, creating “Mantras: in their own silence” and “Mantras: in their sanity”. Spaces are also very important to sound, as both language and silence. Bejn Sħab u Duħħan (Between Clouds and Smoke, 2017) talks about this place(ment) between speaking and becoming manifest.
Such dedication to the precise sounding and feeling of words, vowels and consonants is perhaps what adds weight and power to any lecture or conversation with Zammit. There is something deeply meaningful, moving and also mystical in his work – something in which you can lose yourself yet also be thoroughly found.
Written by Ruth Bezzina
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul