Category: Basque poetry

October 14, 1933: Birth of poet Gabriel Aresti

Gabriel Aresti, arguably the most important poet in the Basque language still to this day, was born in Bilbao on October 14, 1933. Although his father was a Basque speaker, the family did not transmit this language to the young Aresti and he learned it on his own as a young man. After studying business at university, he went on to become an accountant in his home city, but it was in the field of Basque culture in general, and more specifically poetry, that he really made his name.

Gabriel Aresti (1933-1975)

In general terms, he was in the 1960s and 1970s, along with several other writers and artists, one of the leading champions and exponents of modernizing Basque culture and the Basque language. As regards the former, he promoted the idea of poetry as a vehicle for social awareness, as a means of exposing social problems and a medium in which regular, everyday speech could be incorporated; all this at a time of growing social ferment during the latter years of the Franco dictatorship. In terms of the latter, he was one of the most prominent defenders of creating a standardized Basque–known as Euskara Batua or Unified Basque–amid the heated debates over the topic in the 1960s.

In the words of Joseba Zulaika (in his preface to Downhill and Rock & Core):

Gabriel Aresti was the essential poet for my Basque generation of the 1960s. “If you want to write me/You know where I am,” he wrote, “In this most slippery hell/In the mouth of the devil.” It was the hell of Franco’s repressive regime, the endless darkness of his city, Bilbao, turned into an industrial and cultural wasteland. Aresti was the crucified Bilbao writer howling for justice and truth, the vulnerable man of eternal downfall who created a new poetics and a new subjectivity.

Gabriel Aresti died in June 1975.

Aresti’s poetry was published for the first time in English this year by the Center. Downhill and Rock & Core, translated by Amaia Gabantxo and with an introduction by Jon Kortazar, brings together two of Aresti’s key works: Maldan behera (1959) and Harri eta herri (1964). The poems appear in both Basque and English.

Check out, too, Pello Salaburu’s fascinating study of how standard Basque was created in Writing Words. Here, Salaburu talks at length about Aresti’s involvement in establishing this new language.

 

What’s in a Song? Agur Xiberoa

Agur Xiberoa (Farewell Xiberoa) is one of the canonical songs in the Basque songbook, simultaneously a lament to the impact of enforced displacement as well as a testament to the powerful connection between people and place.

It was written in 1946 by Pierre Bordazaharre, also known as Etxahun-Iruri (1908-1979), from Iruri in Xiberoa (today known as Zuberoa). During his compulsory schooling (through age 13) Etxahun-Iruri was a good student and displayed a special interest in literature, becoming an avid reader for the rest of his life. Opportunities for humble rural people, however, to develop such interests further beyond the end of their school years were few and far between at the time and having finished his formal education he carried on the family farming tradition.

This did not prevent him, though, from taking an active part in Basque culture: he was involved in both the maskaradak and pastoralak, two key expressions of Basque culture in Zuberoa. Additionally, he also authored and helped to revolutionize the pastorala in the twentieth century, introducing more specifically Basque themes into the art form; and he was an accomplished xirulari or pipe player, wrote poetry, and was a bertsolari or improvising oral poet.

Agur Xiberua is a lament, the story of the enforced displacement many inhabitants of the province were forced to undertake in search of work and better opportunities than their homeland could offer. It stands as a testament to the cultural importance of Basque exile more generally, although its cheery tune also serves to celebrate the memory of homeland, family, and friends.

The chorus captures all of this perfectly:

Agur Xiberoa                                                            Farewell Zuberoa,

bazter güzietako xokhorik eijerrena          the most beautiful place on earth;

agur sor lekhia                                                         farewell, native land,

zuri ditit ene ametsik goxuenak                    my sweetest dreams go to you

bihotzan erditik                                                      from the bottom of my heart;

bostetan elki deitadazüt hasperena          I have often heaved a sigh,

zü ützi geroztik                                                       since I left you;

bizi niz trixterik                                                       I live in sorrow,

abandonatürik                                                         abandoned,

ez beita herririk                                                      for there is no city,

Parisez besterik,                                                    except Paris,

zü bezalakorik.                                                       which is your equal.

Some of the themes mentioned here, such as the new emphasis on Basque instead of more generically religious or French themes in the cultural expression of the pastorala as well as the impact of emigration from Zuberoa, are discussed in detail by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga in The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006.

*Information sourced for this post from Orhipean, The Country of Basque.

Basque writer Kirmen Uribe selected for fall residency in prestigious Iowa writing program

The Basque poet, writer, and essayist–as well as CBS author–Kirmen Uribe has been selected this fall for the University of Iowa’s prestigious International Writing Program, “a unique conduit for the world’s literatures, connecting well-established writers from around the globe, bringing international literature into classrooms, introducing American writers to other cultures through reading tours, and serving as a clearinghouse for literary news and a wealth of archival and pedagogical materials.” Moreover, Uribe will attend the program thanks to the support of the Etxepare Basque Institute.

Check out the full list of participants, including Uribe and with writing samples, here.

Kirmen Uribe is the author of CBS publication Garmendia and the Black Ridera children’s adventure story set in the Old Wild West.

Downhill and Rock & Core translator Amaia Gabantxo interviewed in Basque daily

The first ever English-language translation of Basque poet Gabriel Aresti’s work by the CBS, Downhill and Rock & Core, is certainly causing quite a splash in the Basque Country. Jon Kortazar, who writes an introduction in the book, has been interviewed on Euskadi Irratia, the main public Basque-language radio station, about he book, and on April 26 the daily newspaper Berria offered an extensive (and lively) interview with Amaia Gabantxo, who was responsible for translating Aresti’s poetry into English.

For Gabantxo, Gabriel Aresti’s work marks a watershed moment for Basque culture in general, hence its importance. In her opinion, understanding Basque culture cannot begin and end with a trip to the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao; to really appreciate who Basques are, outsiders must be given access to their literature, art, film, dance, and music. And what better way than with Aresti? For Gabantxo, the rock metaphor is most appropriate because, “It’s  no joke, Aresti was a rock star. An anarchic guy, a complete rebel. He broke molds. We Basques don’t appreciate what we have, we’ve been so colonized by what we’ve been told…We laugh at Basque culture, and we don’t get the fact that this is what we’ve been trained to do by the discourse of colonizers. So for sure, Aresti was a rock star, and the English title reflects that.”

As regards the particulars of transforming Aresti’s original work into English-language poetry, she observes that, “the strength of a poem resides on the page, it’s not in the words on paper,  but in that distance between the reader’s eyes and the page. That’s where the essence is. That’s where I translate from, from that essence.”  And moving on to the question of translation (and translators) in general, Gabantxo is quite forthright: “It’s clear in my mind that a translator is a writer. Literary translation is a genre of writing, like theater or poetry. You can’t be a good literary translator if you’re not a good writer.  The history of world literature needs translations to stay alive: translations drive literary traditions and languages.”

See the full text of the interview (in Basque) here.

Gabriel Aresti, the great modern Basque poet, comes to English

We are proud to announce the publication of Aresti’s master works, Downhill and Rock & Core, translated by Amaia Gabantxo and introduced by Jon Kortazar, in complete edition in English for the first time!

These 2 books, Downhill (1959, Maldan behera in Basque) and Rock & Core (1964, Harri eta herri in Basque) were foundations of modern Basque literature and influenced pride in Basque language, culture, and expression for generations of Basques! We are so delighted to bring them to you in English for the first time!

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“From symbolism to the poetry of social consciousness, Gabriel Aresti’s work is considered one of the turning points in the history of Basque literature.” Jon Kortazar, from the Introduction

They’ll say

this

ain’t poetry

and

I’ll tell them

poetry

is

a hammer.

Gabriel Aresti, from Rock & Core

Gabriel Aresti Gabriel Aresti y la polemica del vascuence en los 60

Gabriel Aresti

“That little poem, in many ways, shaped my thought. I took a whole day to write it in beautiful block letters on the cover of one of my school folders. It made me understand the power of the word to destroy, to alter, to undo—and to construct, to rebuild.” Amaia Gabantxo, from the Translator’s Preface

“Gabriel Aresti was the essential poet for my Basque generation of the 1960s. “If you want to write me/You know where I am,” he wrote, “In this most slippery hell/In the mouth of the devil.” It was the hell of Franco’s repressive regime, the endless darkness of his city, Bilbao, turned into an industrial and cultural wasteland. Aresti was the crucified Bilbao writer howling for justice and truth, the vulnerable man of eternal downfall who created a new poetics and a new subjectivity.” Joseba Zulaika, from the Foreword

And check back, hardcover will be available soon

 

Goian bego Marijane Minaberri

Marijane Minaberri (1926-2017).

The writer Marijane Minaberri–also known by the pen names “Andereñoa” and  “Atalki”–passed away last Thursday. Born in Banka, Lower Navarre in 1926, she was responsible for what children’s and young people’s literature expert Xabier Etxaniz terms “real change” in Basque letters, almost single-handedly creating the children’s genre in the Basque language.

As a child she attended the village school in Banka before transferring at age 12 to continue her studies in Donapaleu (Saint-Palais).  She then went briefly to Angelu (Anglet) in Lapurdi to study for a high school diploma, but was forced to return home to care for her sick mother without completing her studies. In 1948, she took up a secretarial position in the Banka Town Hall, but in 1954 she relocated to Uztaritze in Lapurdi, taking up a teaching position at a Catholic school in Baiona (Bayonne). During this time she also began to work in the local press, first as a secretary for the Basque Eclair newspaper, the Basque edition of the Eclair-Pyrénées de Pau newspaper. Through this position, she began writing occasionally for the paper and met significant figures in the Basque cultural world such as Canon Ddiddue (Grégoire) Epherre, Father Joseph Camino (founder of the Basque-language Pan-pin comic for kids), and the journalists and writers Gexan Alfaro and Jean Battitt Dirizar.

By the 1960s, then, she was already an established article writer for Basque-language media in Iparralde, the Northern Basque Country, contributing to the likes of Herria, Gure Herria, Almanaka, and Pan-pin. She also started broadcasting in Basque on the short spots reserved for the language on Radio Côte Basque, hosting shows on bertsolaritza, children’s programming, and record request shows. Later, she would also collaborate on the Basque-language stations Gure irratia eta Lapurdi irratia.

As part of her regular contributions to the Basque-language press in Iparralde, she began publishing poems and short stories in the 1960s.  According to Etxaniz (p. 297-98 in Basque Literary History, edited by Mari Jose Olaziregi):

Marijane Minaberri published her first work for children, Marigorri, a version of a well-known story, in 1961. From 1963 her stories, collected in the book Itchulingo anderea (The Lady of Itchulin), and her poems published two years later in Xoria kantari favor a love of reading, enjoyment, and entertainment over instruction. Minaberri gave birth to children’s literature in Euskara; in her work, although the moralizing intention is present, the careful language, descriptions, and the narrative itself reveal the author’s main concern to be aesthetic. In this sense, Minaberri’s most literary work is the book of poems Xoria kantari (A Bird Singing, 1965), in which, the reader can find a great deal of repetition, onomatopoeia, and rhyme, making these simple poems suitable for children.

Here is an example:

Euria                      Rain

Plik! Plak! Plok!   Plik! Plak! Plok!

Euria                      Rain

Xingilka                 Limps

Dabila.                  Along

Plik! Plak! Plok!   Plik! Plak! Plok!

Jauzika,                Bouncing,

Punpeka,             Jumping,

Heldu da.             Here comes.

Plik! Plak! Plok!   Plik! Plak! Plok!

Pasiola                  Fetch

Behar da              your umbrellas

Atera.                    now.

Of the twenty-three poems in the book, seven include the words for well-known songs. At the end of 1997, the folk group Oskorri produced a record with lyrics by Minaberri called “Marijane kantazan” (Sing, Marijane) in honor of this writer who never knew best-selling success (marginalized because she was from the Northern Basque Country, a woman, and a children’s writer), but who worked silently and unceasingly on [Children’s and Young People’s Literature] projects.

In 1975, the newspaper Sud-Ouest took over Basque Eclair, and she worked as a journalist for her new employers until her retirement in 1990.

Among her many other works, she also published two grammar books to help encourage the study of Basque in Iparralde, Dictionnaire basque pour tous (A Basque dictionary for everyone, 1972-1975) and Grammaire basque pour tous (A Basque grammar for everyone, 1978-1981), as well as a collection of plays for children, Haur antzerkia (Children’s theater, 1983).

In sum, she remains one of the often unsung heroines of Basque letters in the twentieth-century.

Goian bego.

New exhibit at the Basque Library

The Jon Bilbao Basque Library now has a new window exhibit!

Basque Culture has been  characterized as an oral culture for a long time, in which orality plays a strong role in cultural transmission. The best known oral cultural activity is Bertsolaritza or Basque improvised poetry.

Bertsolaritza is a form of sung improvised poetry and an important cultural expression for the Basque people. Improvisers (Bertsolari in Basque) are well known by the population and they often perform at all kinds of festivities. Bertsolaritza is the Basque contribution to improvised poetries around the world. Basques have been able to preserve, modernize, and publicize bertsolaritza worldwide.

The exhibit includes explanatory texts, a shortened version of the documentary Bertsolari by the well know Basque director Asier Altuna, photographs of Bertsolariak in the Basque Country and the US, and a selection of our books about Bertsolaritza.

The Basque Library at the University of Nevada, Reno is now part of Kulturartea, a network of academic organizations working together in the field of improvised poetry including Basque Bertsolaritza and other similar activities around the world. This exhibit is our first visible effort to increase awareness about Bertsolaritza in Nevada and beyond.

Bertsolaritza exhibit at the Jon Bilbao Basque Library

The Center for Basque Studies will kindly provide all of our visitors with complimentary copies of the work Voicing the Moment: Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition. This volume brings together contributions by leading scholars in the field of orally improvised poetry. It includes, on the one hand, essays on improvised poetry and, on the other, essays in which leading practitioners of bertsolaritza study their own poetic art and its techniques.

The exhibit was designed by Iñaki Arrieta Baro and Shannon Sisco, and put in place by Shannon and our student workers Vivian Lewis and Annabel Gordon. It will be on display until April 2017.

June 25, 1937: Execution of Basque poet Lauaxeta

On June 25, 1937, barely a year into the Spanish Civil War, the Basque poet Estepan Urkiaga, better known as Lauaxeta, having been convicted of sustaining “nationalist beliefs” by a military tribunal, was executed by firing squad as an enemy of the rebel forces led by General Franco. He was thirty-two years old.

 

Lauaxeta_01

Estepan Urkiaga, “Lauaxeta” (1005-1937). Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Lauaxeta had been a leading member of the Basque cultural renaissance, Euskal Pizkundea, in the 1930s. “He had,” as Lourdes Otaegi remarks in her chapter on Basque poetry in Basque Literary History, “the charisma of an iconoclast and embodied the most controversial facet of the renewal of Basque poetry with his work Bide Barrijak (New Paths, 1931).”

Shortly before being executed Lauaxeta wrote to a friend:

In a few hours I am to be executed. I die happy because I feel Jesus close to me and I love as never before the only homeland of the Basques. . . . When you think of me, who has loved you like a father, love Christ, be pure and chaste, love Euzkadi as your parents have done. Visit my poor mother and kiss her forehead. Farewell until heaven. I bless you a thousand times.

In That Old Bilbao Moon, Joseba Zulaika explores the significance of Lauaxeta, and explains how he was also another victim of the infamous bombing of Gernika in April 1937:

One of the victims of Gernika was “Lauaxeta”—the pen name of Estepan Urkiaga, a well-known poet working in Bilbao for Aguirre’s Basque government. The Gernika bombing was followed by a propaganda war in which Franco and the Germans claimed that the town had been bombed and burned by its Republican Basque defenders. It was Lauaxeta’s role to show evidence to the contrary to the international media. As he led a French journalist to the charred town, both men were arrested. The journalist was freed and Lauaxeta was executed. Before facing the firing squad at dawn, Lauaxeta spent the night writing a farewell poem to his country—“Agur, Euzkadi” (Goodbye, Euskadi), which concluded:

Let the spirit go to luminous heaven
Let the body be thrown to the dark earth.

In another poem, “Azken oyua” (The Last Howl), Lauaxeta wrote:

Oh Lord, please grant me this death;
Let the smell of the roses be for cowards.
Send me blessed freedom.

Lauxeta’s axiom and testament was his line “Everything must be given to the freedom we love.” Freedom was a political sacrament.

If you’d like to learn more about the life and work as well as influence of Lauaxeta, in addition to the abovementioned works, check out the following:

In The Basque Poetic Tradition, Gorka Aulestia devotes a chapter to the life and work of Lauaxeta. Meanwhile, the political dimension and legacy of Lauaxeta’s execution is discussed in Cameron J. Watson’s Basque Nationalism and Political Violence. And there is an interesting examination of film representations of Lauaxeta in Santiago de Pablo’s The Basque Nation On-Screen.