Broken Words

Broken Words
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Maria Vella, film-maker, writer, Australia


Broken Words is an animated, bi-lingual videopoem spoken in Maltese and subtitled in English. The poem is about my liminal experiences as an immigrant child, caught between the old world and the new world, but never belonging to either one. It is a poem about dual identities: the public one, with broken English, and my secret domestic one, with broken Maltese. Broken Words explores the identity that emerges from the language that breaks us.


Translated by the film-maker into English

I don’t speak properly
but these are the words that mine
broken but mine

when I was little
her, the one who teaches children,
would scream at me
for the words, for the words,
were dizzy like one who has drunk

my father used to drink and curse
and my words are like him

when I talk in English
my faces runs away from me
but when my mouth fills
with the words that came
my mother and father
I see my face and I see a work
that I do not know
but that knows me

from under the sea
I hear the broken words calling me
from these words
that fell and broke
from these words
come out my ghosts


Maria Vella was born in Qormi, Malta, in 1980 and immigrated with her parents and younger brother to Melbourne in 1983. She is a video poet, poet and visual artist. Her work has appeared in The Best Australian Poems, Overland and elsewhere. She is a PhD candidate and tutor at Deakin University in Geelong. She is currently working on a collection of bilingual poems.
For their contributions, advice and assistance, thanks to:
Alison Pridham, Aljaž Koprivnikar, Ari Raijas, Bill Mousoulis, Brendan Bonsack, Brian Short, Bronwen Manger, Caroline Rumley, Charles Olsen, Chris Luscri, Chris Windmill, Claudia Larose-Bell, Darko Duilo, Dave Bonta, David Quiles Guilló, Eduardo Yagüe, Fiona Tinwei Lam, Francesca Guiliani, Gemma Grist, Helen Dewbery, Ian Gibbins, Ivana Bojanić, Jackson, Jane Glennie, Jim Robson, Karen Dawson, Kathryn Darnell, James Meetze, Lino Mocerino, Liran Shachar, Lois P. Jones, Lori Ersolmaz, Lucia Sellars, Lucy English, Luigi Starace, Maria Vella, Marc Neys, Martin Kelly, Matt Hetherington, Matt Mullins, Mike Hoolboom, Nigel Wells, Pam Falkenberg, Paul Casey, R.W. Perkins, Sissy Doutsiou, Sylvia Toy St Louis, Vicky Mousoulis, the film-makers, writers and their collaborators.