bringing home world poetry: talking with beñat sarasola    How did you choose the poets for the collection Munduko Poesia Kaierak (World Poetry Notebooks)? What was your criteria?

The selection of authors for that type of project always opens up a debate, as do all selection processes, come to that. Some people will say that this poet or that poet are missing, why did that one translate that other one... Really, we weren’t interested in following any sort of canon, although we do know that putting together any such ‘list’ is no joke and there always has to be some sort of reference.
One possibility could have been to draw up a strict list and, in line with that, start translating. In other words, make a list of “poets that we must translate” for the translators to start work on them. We’ve started in another direction because we neither have the resources (we can’t pay for the work) nor any wish to draw up a canon, as we’ve just said. So the translators and I choose the poets together. We reach agreements taking the translators’ tastes and the project’s needs into account. The chosen poets must be very important and their own national literature; they can’t be people who’ve just started off, or who’ve only written occasionally. In addition to that, we want it to be a balanced collection: balanced in terms of the poets’ literary traditions, the source languages, gender, style and so on.

When you presented the collection, you said that they were going to be anthologies and that you wanted to keep them simple. You want to put together poetry notebooks which people are going to read and not books to be studied at university. Does poetry which isn’t read ever get published?

Well, there is poetry which isn’t read (in a positive sense), poetry which is written to be used in visual art, for instance. Kenneth Goldsmith’s work has been talked about in that context, but there is hardly any trace of that in our work. Apart from Artze’s work, there is very little. However, what I said at the presentation was about something different. These notebooks are not critical or academic editions. As you say, we try to make the simplest possible editions.
All literature fans like critical editions, of course, but in our literature there are more obvious gaps to fill before that. Why bring out critical editions if there isn’t even a minimum number of poetry readers? In fact, there isn’t even any real number of researchers. How many theses about poetry have been written about poetry in the last ten years in the Basque Country?

Literature in itself is always a lost battle. There is always much more to translate than we can actually translate. And even more so with poetry. Why do you think so little poetry is translated into Basque?

That’s right, poetry’s often attributed some sort of tragi-heroic character. I think a lot of the clichés stem from that. It’s often been said that there’s no skill for translating poetry in the Basque Country. I don’t think there’s much skill for translating poetry, nor is there for translating modern prose. If we set up perfection as our barrier, there wouldn’t be translators, writer, artists or even weathermen.
I’d say that one of the reasons for not translating much poetry is that prejudice. As well as that, the attempts which have been made until now haven’t turned out well, unfortunately, amongst other things because there are so few readers. That’s why we’ve tried to control our print runs as much as possible, by having subscribers, for instance.

Are people who read poetry in Basque interested in poetry written in other languages, or do they only read Basque poetry?

It’s hard to quantify, but I’d say that in general people who read poetry in Basque read in other languages too. Nowadays nobody’s ashamed to say ‘poetry’s too much for me’: even prestigious writers can say that without anybody being scandalised. So there isn’t any sort of misguided militancy obliging people to do what they don’t want to do, fortunately. Perhaps people who read poetry in Basque read more in Basque than in other languages, but that’s all. Let’s see if they start reading poetry translated into Basque too.

The Colombian poet and translator Nicolás Suescún says that poetry doesn’t get lost in translation because poetry is what stays in the translation...

I hadn’t heard that quote before: it’s beautiful. It’s connected with what we’ve said before. There’s too much mysticism around poetry and it would be better if we all approached it in a more natural way. Many of us have long had access to world poetry through Spanish, and nobody’s questioned that. If you read Ezra Pound Cantos in the Cátedra edition, nobody will pick you up if you say you’ve read Pound. It’s about time that happened with Basque too. For instance, I’ve read Georg Trakl or Anne Sexton or Eugenio Montale or Sakutaro Hagiwara.