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Review: Six Basque Poets, ed. Mari Jose Olaziregi

Raymond Humphreys, Roundyhouse Magazine

Euskal Herria, the Basque Country, stretches across part of the territory of two sovereign states, and it might be expected that much of the poetry would have a narrowly nationalistic focus. In fact, this element wasn't too intrusive. One of the poets, Bernardo Axtaga, uses a quite different obsession (it's usually good news when poets aren't afraid to display their obsessions) to good effect. In his case, the passion seems to be one with numbers, and this comes across most effectively in Zebrak Eta Heriotza - Death and the Zebras. In the translated version this starts:

We were157 zebras
galloping across the parched plain, I ran behind zebra 24,
25 and 26,
ahead of 61 and 62

and ends after the depredations of crocodiles in the river, We were 149 zebras / galloping...

Numbers are used throughout the poem in a similar way (they are in words in the original) and it really does give a picture of a large herd making a precarious gallop across the dusty plain.

Although it's a language isolate, Euskara, to give its local name, lends itself well to poetry. This is largely because it's an agglutinative language (one that affixes prepositions, adjectives etc, to nouns and verbs). This allows for rich rhythmic patterns and internal rhymes in the verse. There are many examples in most or all of the poems, but one by Rikardo Arregi in Love Poem I - 'Amodiozko Poema I' particularly struck me.

Witches and soothsayers,
I've researched them all.
I am master of
all superstitions...

sounds decidedly more prosaic than Sorginak eta aztiak, / guzti-guztiak bilatu ditut. / Sineskeria oratan / naiz aditua...!