And though it populates only a comparatively slim set of volumes as of yet, Bugeja’s poetry has already secured him a place among the most notable figures of contemporary Maltese literature. Having established himself as one of “the Inizjamed set” of poets and writers to emerge from that tight-knit and influential literary NGO, and making his publishing debut with Stay, Fairy Tale, Stay! in 2005 – which formed part of a series of books by emerging local poets – Bugeja staked his strongest early claim on the scene with his first bona fide collection of poems, Bliet (Cities, 2009).
True to the simple but compactly rich implications of its title, Bliet endeavours to tuck into and deconstruct the rich panoply of the city as a living and ever-mutable concept, drawing from personal impressions but reaching for enduring observations and images, with a global scope but also an undeniable magnetic pull towards the Mediterranean miasma. In a conversation with fellow poet and Inizjamed member Kit Azzopardi, Bugeja observed how the Maltese poet is burdened with the opposite problem to their counterparts in countries with more long-lasting literary cultures: without all that many precedents to latch onto, the Maltese poet is a nomadic figure. Such rootlessness certainly finds eager expression in Bugeja’s subsequent collections – South of the Kasbah (Midsea Books, 2015) and Nartiċi (Klabb Kotba Maltin, 2016), which once again take in a broad geographical sweep of cities and places, in a move that veteran fellow poets associate with both a ‘mindful’ sense of pleasure-seeking and a fluid but slyly knowing questing nature. Immanuel Mifsud describes Bugeja’s approach in Nartiċi as that of a traveller visiting – and laying with – an old lover he revisits periodically from abroad: “Here is a traveller who knows what he wants and where to find it … it is essentially hedonistic poetry, where even melancholy becomes pleasurable – is likely the strongest pleasure of all.” The roving poetic narrator of Nartiċi – whose individual poems are, in fact, described as one single kaleidoscopic work by Antoine Cassar – ends up crafting works which, according to Maria Grech Ganado, evoke “the poetical harmony of a symphony”.
Having worked as a translator in Brussels in the early 2000s, Bugeja co-ordinates the MA (Research) in Mediterranean Studies, convenes the Mediterranean Institute Seminar, and is a member of the Board of the Mediterranean Institute. He is also the General Editor of the Journal of Mediterranean Studies.
Written by Teodor Reljić
Project co-ordinator: Clare Azzopardi
With the help of: Kirsty Azzopardi, Leanne Ellul and Albert Gatt
Proofreader: Dwayne Ellul