Arc Publications logo

50 years at the cutting edge of poetry publishing

“A meeting point for poets of all latitudes”
— VĂ­ctor Rodríguez Núñez

Review: Six Basque Poets, ed. Mari Jose Olaziregi

Ian Pople, P N Review 183, Sept-Oct 2008

Six Basque Poets is introduced with a short history of Basque literature and a short commentary on contemporary Basque literature. This is now enjoying a post-Franco freedom, with Basque one of the official languages of Spain, although one of these poets, Joseba Sarrionandia, is still in hiding, having escaped gaol in 1985. in this volume, the featured poets have around fifteen pages each, with a stringent introduction by the volume's editor. These are younger poets; the oldest started publishing in the 1970s, and the youngest in the 1990s.

It seems a pity, in this day and age, that there is only one female voice in this volume, Miren Agur Meabe. Her poems are imbued with a sense of difference, and their eroticised meditations on desire and the body offer a powerful lyricism. Meabe's poetry is vivid, particularised and, in these translations, rhythmic and driven: I scrape yellowy crusts of lichen, rain bequests, with my nail file. / I lie down and cover the marble letters with kisses (The Ant (II)).

The poems of Rikardo Arregi also offer a powerfully realised imagism, which is often used to meditate on and identify with the literature and peoples of other cultures, in one case Russia, in another, Sarajevo. These meditations, in turn, reflect upon the ways in which Basque literature reaches out beyond its past suppressions. Bernardo Atxaga ses a jovial surrealism to discuss both life and death; his Death and the Zebras begins,

We were 157 zebras
galloping across the parched plain,
and ahead of me were 12, 13
and 14, and behind me
43 and 44

This volume brings a wide variety of contemporary Basque voices to British notice for the first time.