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.