The 2019 Basque Writing Contest is here! We are accepting manuscripts starting Friday to firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to seeing all your wonderful literary works and good luck!
The book was a quick read, a collection of clever poems all about Joan Errea’s father Arnaud Paris and Errea’s experience growing up on the ranches of rural Nevada. Arnaud was a kind and gentle man who was a sharp contrast to Errea’s experience with her stern mother Marie. The poems are clever and playful, complimented by the fun illustrations at the beginning of every poem, including sketches of the Paris’s sheepdog “Queenie” and the pigs that had gotten into Aita’s stash of cider. It is definitely a worth-while book to check out, especially those who are fans of My Mama Marie .
I started loving books about prisons when I was about fifteen, when I picked up The Green Mile by Stephen King, which is still one of my all-time favorites. I then moved onto The Shawshank Redemption by Stephen King and I am now beginning to read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey (which one is technically a short story and the other isn’t technically about a prison, but you get the idea). They are just so gritty and dark, yet hopeful and understanding, usually saying more about life and death through the tales of those who are vulnerable enough to really understand their existential value, than you get out of most books.
So it wasn’t surprising when I fell in love with At Midnight by Javier Arzuaga, a book I absolutely adore for three reasons. First of all, the book’s plot itself is fascinating; it is a true account of Arzuaga’s experience as a Catholic priest at La Cabaña, the prison where the accomplices of the overthrown dictator after the Cuban Revolution were held. Arzuaga’s job was to console those who were sent to be executed. Through the process of Arzuaga consoling fifty-five men sent to death, he shares his thoughts on life, death, God and religion, from the perspective of someone whose job it is to deal with these existential topics constantly.
The second reason is this is the first book I had ever read before it was published and it was downright magical seeing the process of publication and seeing something materialize from just words on a screen become a book. It is one nice looking book as well, with the artwork making you feel as though you are walking through the door to the afterlife.
The third reason I loved this book is that, unlike The Green Mile or The Shawshank Redemption, At Midnight a true account, which adds a whole new level to it. Not only is it interesting that this actually happened, but since Arzuaga was an actual person, instead of a character, it gives it a sense of irony and comfort that you can’t get from a fictional book; that the author, who had to deal with so much death, has an afterlife through his accounts of life and death.
NOTE from BasqueBooksEditor: Welcome to Carly Sauvageau. Carly is a journalism student here at UNR and has joined the team as our student assistant—and the latest contributor to the Basque Books Blog! Welcome aboard Carly and thanks for sharing your thoughts about this amazing book with us! All you all out there, if you don’t have a copy of At Midnight, you should get one soon 🙂
The Center’s booth at the Western Mercantile
It was our pleasure here at the William A. Douglass Center for Basque Studies to be invited to participate in the 34th annual National Cowboy Poetry Gathering held annually in Elko, Nevada. This year’s festival was focused on the contributions of Basques in the West and included sessions on Basque arborglyphs, Basque poetry, Basque writing, the experience of Basques in ranching—featuring the insight of longtime Nevada resident and stalwart of Winnemucca’s Basque community, Frank Bidart—only 95 years young!
Portrait of beloved Basque sheepherder and owner—and shepherd of generations of 4-H sheep program participants in the Reno area—Abel Mendeguia, by Linda Dufurrena, on display in the Western Folklife Center
One of the highlights of the whole show was the participation of berstolariak, especially those from the Basque Country including reigning champion Maialen Lujanbio, as well as Oihana Iguaran Barandiaran and Miren Artetxe! The Basque bertsolariak were also accompanied by US Basque improvisers Jesus Goñi from Reno and Martin Goicoechea from Rock Springs, Wyoming. From Buffalo, Wyoming, Center author and musician David Romtvedt participated in many musical venues playing generally with his daughter Caitlin, and they were also a common sight to be seen playing after hours, usually in the company of Ardi Baltza accordionist Anamarie Lopategui. Basque-American author and Elko native Vince Juaristi was also in attendance with his stories of growing up Basque in the US. There were also dance performances by Elko’s Ardi Baltza and Elko Ariñak dancers, the latter being accompanied by Mercedes Mendive and Melodikoa. Popular Basque musical group Amerikanuak played, led by Jean Flesher from Salt Lake City, a true pioneer of Basque culture in the US (as many of the people mentioned here are), with members from as far away as Berlin, Germany in attendance! The Basque show on Thursday night was hosted by the Center’s own Kate Camino. Center friend and author Joxe Mallea presented on aspen carvings and artist Zoe Bray painted portraits of Basques and presented her portraits at the Western Folklife Center. The session on Basque writing featured the readings from My Mama Marie by Joan Errea, Florence Larraneta Frye, David Romtvedt, who read from Zelestina Urza in Outer Space and Elko’s own Gretchen Skivington who presented on and read from her brand new novel Echevarria. And I’m sure I’m forgetting someone or many people, the numbers of Basque participants was truly a wonder to behold.
The Center also participated in the show’s vendors with stand in the Western Mercantile. After hours, the Basque party continued at Elko’s Ogi Deli and the Star Hotel!
We have come a long ways from when cowboys and sheepherders fought range wars in this same part of northern Nevada. It was such a pleasure to be included and for Basque contributions to be recognized by all the cowpunchers! 😉
The bertsolaritza or Basque improvised poetry is one of the most intimate practices of the Basque language, where poets improvise and sing a song around a concept provided by the audience, following a set of rules about rhyme, meter and melody. For this reason, bertsolaris are some of the greatest masters of the Basque language. Until recently, however, the bertsolaritza was a strictly male domain. The village frontons, squares, and the National Improvised Poetry Competition featured men only, until a few brave female pioneers emerged to reclaim the voices of women in traditional culture.
In traditional Basque society, the fronton or village square was the public stage for the inculcation of values, the performance of identities, the practice of social control, and the negotiation of power. The main protagonists of the fronton were men: men playing pelota, men singing bertsos.
“How do you remember your great jump into the town square?” one of those female pioneers, Maialen Lujanbio was asked in an interview in 2009 for the journal Oral Tradition, after she became the first ever female txapeldun or champion of improvised poetry. “I started to be known by everyone,” she answered. “Because they put us… where we didn’t`t belong.” Women’s great jump into the town square, into the public sphere of frontons, sport halls and stadiums, is a powerful metaphor for access in a society where such arenas had been reserved for men.
Maialen Lujanbio sings the winning bertso at the 2017 National Championship:
The CBS Seminar Series featured the bertsolari and PhD student Miren Artetxe Sarasola, who talked about the most important landmarks of this journey in her lecture titled “Women bertsolari: From the first attempts to the current achievements.” Miren defined those landmarks in terms of Pathfinders, i.e. the first women poets who affected a breakthrough in a male realm; Networks, or the organizations created by and for female performers; Theorization, or the academic study of this new cultural development within the broader currents of Basque feminism; and Spaces of Empowerment, where female bertsolaris may find encouragement and inspiration for singing bertsos. The main achievements of the past ten years, Miren argues, is that a different consciousness is emerging around bertsolaritza: new themes and contents emerge through women’s participation, creating a more inclusive cultural sphere that also features women’s worlds and experiences.
Following the lecture, three bertsolaris, Miren Artetxe Sarasola, Maialen Lujanbio and Jesus Goñi sang bertsos at the Center for Basque Studies before a crowd of faculty, students, friends and family. The performances were followed by a potluck snack at the CBS, and a poteo in Louis Basque Corner in downtown Reno.
December 17th 2017, the BEC (Bilbao Exhibition Center) celebrated the Bertsolari Txapelketa Nagusia (The Great Bertsolari Championship) of the Basque Country. A championship that was lived with great intensity and that gathered almost 15,000 fans from all over the Basque Country.
It was a very special day as Maialen Lujanbio, the only female competitor, won for the second time the Txapela. The runner up was Aitor Mendiluze, and the third was Sustrai Colina. The rankings finished in the order of Amets Arzallus, Igor Elortza, Aitor Sarriegi, Beñat Gaztelumendi and Unai Agirre. It was a final of great quality, with a very dedicated and motivated audience.
Bertsolari Txapelketa Nagusia is a championship among bertsolaris from all over the Basque Country and takes place every four years. It was first organized by Euzko-Gaztedi in 1935 and 1936. It was cancelled due to the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939) and its subsequent repression. It wasn’t until the 1960’s when the championship came back from the catacombs of oblivion when Euskaltzaindia (Basque Language Academy) brought back the competition during the 1960’s. However the competition had to be stopped during the 1970’s. It wasn’t until 1980 when the championship came back and since 1986, the championship is held every four years.
This Friday, January 26, the Center for Basque Studies and the Jon Bilbao Library will celebrate a special evening of Bertsolaritza with Maialen Lujanbio, Miren Artetxe, and Jesus Goñi .
We will love to invite you all to join us during such a beautiful event.
These Bertsolaris will be in Elko during the National Cowboy Poetry Gathering with others from the Basque Country and the US.
If you want to know more about Bertsolaritza you might like to read: Voicing the Moment:Improvised Oral Poetry and Basque Tradition.
Maialen Lujanbio Zugasti, the first woman to win the national bertsolari championship in 2009, was born in Hernani, Gipuzkoa, on November 26, 1976.
Lujanbio first took an interest in bertsolaritza (improvised oral verse) at her ikastola (Basque-medium high school), and began attending an extracurricular bertso eskola, a school dedicated specifically to imparting the art. By the age of fifteen she was competing in junior competitions. She then went on to study Fine Arts at the University of the Basque Country and qualified for her first national championship in 1997. In 2001 she was runner-up at the same championship and finished fourth at the subsequent context in 2005.
In 2009, though, she finally achieved the most prestigious award for a bertsolari, winning the coveted champion’s txapela (beret) in front of 14,500 spectators at the Bilbao Exhibition Centre. Her agurra (the farewell verse improvised by the champion bertsolari) remains one of the most memorable in the history of the competition.
Lujanbio also went on to teach bertsolaritza and shares her profession as a bertsolari with various roles in the world of artistic and literary creation: she has written song lyrics for Basque musicians like Maixa eta Ixiar, Alaitz eta Maider, Anje Duhalde, Mikel Errazkin, Mikel Markez, and the group Oskorri. She has also written articles for the Basque press and helped out with coordinating the bertsolaritza association. And in 2010 she published Hau cuaderno bat zen (This was a notebook), a compilation of the notes she took while taking a graduate studies in the transmission of Basque culture.
If you’re in the West, Lujanbio will perform at next year’s National Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko, NV, along with other bertsolaris, both from the Basque Country and from the West. It’s sure to be a fun event!
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.
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,
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.