Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Looking for Paradise. Utopia as a Social Issue in Basque Poetry

Academic journal article Bulletin of Hispanic Studies

Looking for Paradise. Utopia as a Social Issue in Basque Poetry

Article excerpt

The purpose of this article is to give a brief introduction to the Basque poetry of the twentieth century, and to focus on one of the main writers of Basque, Bernardo Atxaga (1951-), as a relevant exponent of the critical conscience in social concerns throughout recent Basque poetry.1 The poetry of the period after the Civil War (1936-1939), of the twentieth century up to the appearance of recent literature shows very clear critical thinking on social organization issues. It can be traced also in the texts of the main writers of modern Basque literature. Most famous are the poets of the Francoist period who began their poetry in the difficult years of the 1950's, in what was labelled 'social poetry' and included distinctive voices such as Juan San Martín 'Otsalar' (1922-2005), Gabriel Aresti (1933-1975) and José Azurmendi (1941-), who were joined in the 1960s by the powerful introduction of song writers like Mikel Laboa (1934-2008) and Xabier Lete (1944-2010).

All this collective energy was redirected when the new political 'spirit of Transition' arrived and brought onstage a new kind of individual sentimentality focused on everyday experience, which 'privatized' the poetry. The poet's interest was redirected into personal life and emotion or into general humanistic subjects. Here we could mention different voices that represent this new movement, named 'the poetics of experience', such as Tere Irastorza (b. 1961), Gerardo Markuleta (b. 1963), Felipe Juaristi (b. 1957) and Kirmen Uribe (b. 1970). Among the variety of poetics that are displayed we could include other tendencies such as surrealist poetics (Harkaitz Cano (b. 1975)) and post-symbolist poetics (Juan Mari Lekuona (1927-2005)), as well as the use of narrative styles in poetry (Pako Aristi (b. 1963)).

But there is no doubt that in contemporary Basque poetry some of the most outstanding voices have endured and renewed the expression of a critical conscience focused on socio-political issues. A complete research is yet to be written up on its distinctive features, technical devices and thematic confluences, but there are certainly poets who are unanimously appointed among the main voices of Basque poetry, like Bernardo Atxaga (b. 1951), Joseba Sarrionandia (b. 1958) and Koldo Izagirre (1953), who share a critical conscience of reality, always expressed by means of a characteristically personal style and thematic point of view.

As we have explained in previous articles (Otaegi Imaz 2012: 225-45), those three writers were the authors who paved the path to avant-gardism in Basque literature at the end of 1970s and participated in literary projects that linked them with countercultural movements. However, ten years later they revised their poetic beliefs and put an end to that period of intense experimentation in Basque poetry. Atxaga abandoned avant-gardism in 1986 and confirmed this on publishing Poemas & Híbridos (1990), including a selection of the poems of his previous first poetry book, Etiopia (1978). Talking in general terms, the natural and urban spaces were the main metaphorical expressions of utopia and dystopia reflection in Atxaga's first poetry. The poet Joseba Sarrionandia has developed a whole poetic universe of dystopian spaces such as the prison, the labyrinth and exile as personal and collective approaches to the subject of a repressed nationality in his main poetic books Izuen gordelekuetan barrena [In the recesses of fear] (1981), Marinel Zaharra [The Ancient mariner] (1987) and Gartzelako poemak [Prison poems] (1992). In the late 1980s he expressed in his second work a need to combine his literary world with his real world in jail and exile by revising his previous texts. As for Koldo Izagirre, he has set frequently the space of reflection on social and political issues in the geographical border between land and sea, and the fight for liberty and justice is metaphorically represented in his books in ports and seaside resorts as a way of finding an expression for the utopian desires that are constrained in the interior. …

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