Koldo Izagirre felt the call of literature from a young age, and this feeling led him to take part in the cultural movements that arose throughout the Basque Country in the last years of the Franco era. He was one of the founders, with Bernardo Atxaga, of the journal Ustela [Rotten], which, though its existence was brief, holds an important position in the recent history of Basque literature; he also worked to publish the journal Oh! Euzkadi! [Oh! Basque Country!] with the assistance of Ramon Saizarbitoria.
During the same period of time that Ustela and Oh! Euzkadi! were published, that is, in the late 1970s, Izagirre published his first collections of poems, Itsaso ahantzia [The Forgotten Sea] (Kriseilu, 1976), Oinaze zaharrera [Toward an Ancient Suffering] (Ustela Collection, 1977) and Guardasola ahantzia [The Forgotten Umbrella] (Ustela Collection, 1978). Writer's block then caused the author to give up poetry for ten years. This period came to an end, or rather, was overcome, with the collection of poems, Balizko erroten erresuma [The Land of Imaginary Mills] (Susa, 1989), about which Izagirre says, "with this work, I took leave of my adolescence, that is, of the prehistory of Izagirre the writer (in Etxeberria, Hasier. Bost idazle [Five Writers], Alberdania, Irun, 2002). According to Iñaki Aldekoa, "the book begins with what we could call a critical examination of the past in order to then remind us of those whose destiny it is to enhance the value of poetry. Lauaxeta, for example, whose work was so often compared to that of his contemporary, Garcia Lorca, or those whose work never attained the heavenly heights of Lizardi's but whose wings were broken against the ceilings of their cells. This is true as well in the case of Aresti, mentor of younger generations who with Balizko erroten erresuma was restored to his rightful position as the symbol and catalyst of a new dawn." (in Aldekoa, Iñaki. Historia de la literatura vasca [History of Basque Literature], Erein, San Sebastian, 2004).
In his collection of poems Non dago Basques' Harbour [Where is Basques' Harbour] (Susa, 1997), on the other hand, Izagirre evokes the atmosphere of the port of Pasajes at the time of his childhood for, although he was born in Altza, it was in Pasajes that he grew up. "In this landscape of memory, which is always reconstructed and therefore it matters little whether it was truly experienced or merely dreamed, the child's open eyes and ears always alert to what is going on around him will guide us. Thus, it is the poet's childhood that approaches the imaginary world of the port (ships with different flags, abandoned submarines, cranes, freight, people of all types exuding sex and alcohol...), and it is another poematic voice, an adult voice, that pervades the child's vision and makes sense of the world. (...) Izagirre's poetry speaks to us out of the rage of dissent. But what is its homeland? His territory is the sea. It is unsurprising, therefore, that in his poetry, the most common image is that of Utopia or, in other words, a ship that seeks an island that will shelter the dreamed-of homeland," explains Aldekoa (in Aldekoa, Iñaki. Op. cit.).
With respect to the "dreamed-of homeland" mentioned by Aldekoa, it must be said that, although there were early indications of it in Balizko erroten erresuma, it is in Non dago Basques' Harbour that the poet's ideology is first seen clearly. As Izagirre himself says, "Non dago Basques' Harbour eta beste madarikazio batzuk [Where is Basques' Harbour and Other Curses] is the full title. It is not a question, but a curse. It shows that the important thing is the voyage, rather than the arrival at a port. The important thing is the voyage, the farther the freer and, interpreting this on all levels, I take it as my philosophy that the goal is the voyage, the goal is not reflected in ordinary things" (in Etxeberria, Hasier. Op. cit.).
In the genre of poetry, we also have Izagirre's more recent works, Teilatuko lizarra [The Ash Tree on the Roof] (Susa, 2006), poem-songs written by Izagirre and set to music by Joseba Tapia, and the collection of poems Rimmel [Rimmel] (Susa, 2006). "Native of Pasajes Koldo Izagirre takes the birth of his daughter, her childhood, school years and freedom as the subjects of his latest book. A child is born, and we are born again with her, in awe, fear and awkwardness. Rimmel, with its tremendous images, rocks us in the cradle of memory and dream." (...) The work is divided into three parts. Birth appears in the first, learning – both at home and at school – in the second, and freedom in the third. All three are periods of time without learning in our lives" (in Garro, Lander. "Haurraren begietara jaiotzea," Oarsoaldeko Hitza, 1 December, 2006).
With respect to narrative, the Guipuzcoan author's first publications were the collections of stories, Zergatik bai [Why] (Kriseilu, 1977) and Gauzetan [In Things] (Ustela Collection, 1979). Mari Jose Olaziregi points out that Gauzetan "was one of the first forays of modern Basque literature into fantastic literature. This book is an example of the semantic and symbolic capacity of Izagirre's prose, a prose steeped in an animism that goes beyond an external vision of reality" (in Olaziregi, Mari Jose. Euskal eleberriaren historia [A History of the Basque Novel], Labayru, Bilbao, 2002).
In contrast, Euzkadi merezi zuten [They Deserved Euzkadi] (Hordago, 1984) is a realist novel that examines how the Spanish Civil War began in the Basque Country. "But in this case, realism does not mean an objective and faithful chronicle of events, but rather a suggestive and Baroque stylistic recreation of the events being narrated. The rural touch and the use of particular verbal turns of phrase in Izagirre's prose are characteristics that appear consistently throughout the author's literary career," explains Olaziregi (in Olaziregi, Mari Jose, Op. cit.).
After this work came Mendekuak [Vengeance] (Susa, 1987) and Metxa esaten dioten agirretar baten ibili herrenak [The Misadventures of an Agirre Called Metxa] (Elkar, 1991), with which Izagirre won first prize in the Bilintx Young People's Literature competition. Metxa consists of fourteen stories whose protagonist is the hot-headed and rebellious old man, Nikola da Agirre, nicknamed Metxa. Ez duk erraza, konpai! [It's Not Easy, Man!] (Susa, 1995), which is set in Cuba, would have to be categorized as a chronicle, though the author himself confesses that this work is rather eclectic: "It's almost a fantasy, to put it one way. It's partially fiction, but some parts of it are articles. Then fictional characters are mixed up with real people... It's a hybrid chronicle..." (in Etxeberria, Hasier. Op. cit.). In this sense, Izagirre's work Merry Christmas, Panama! esan zuen heriotzak [Merry Christmas, Panama! said death] (Euskaldunon Egunkaria, 1999) can be more firmly classified as a chronicle.
We must of course mention the novels Vladimir [Vladimir] (Erein, 1996) and Nik ere Germinal! egin gura nuen aldarri [I Also Wanted to Shout Germinal!] (Susa, 1998). Izagirre has said that in the novel Nik ere Germinal! egin gura nuen aldarri, he wanted to describe the personal motivations, suffering and fear of a political activist condemned to death and that therefore, the protagonist of the story is a Basque activist. But behind this protagonist's story we see the shadow of the Italian anarchist Angiolillo, who was condemned to death by garrotting for his assassination of Cánovas del Castillo. Indeed, at a certain moment in the story, it emerges that the protagonist wants to shout "Germinal!" before being executed because this was the last word uttered by Angiolillo. In Olaziregi's opinion, "the richness of the narrative strategy (constant chronological leaps, changes in narrative focus, the use of the Vizcayan dialect of Basque in the primary narrative) distinguishes Nik ere Germinal! egin gura nuen aldarri from the historical genre and instead turns it into the literary recreation of an historical event" (in Olaziregi, Mari Jose. Op. cit.).
Both the activist who feels some sort of bond with Angiolillo and Metxa are examples of characters who are willing to go to extremes to defend their ideas. According to Izagirre, these characters are "coherent, but they're not stereotypes. They are not positive heroes, that is, heroes of social realism. They both show great individualism, which is the basis for their rage. They go against the tide" (in Etxeberria, Hasier. Op. cit.).
The figure of Metxa makes a return in Agirre zaharraren kartzelaldi berriak [The New Imprisonments of Old Agirre] (EEF-Elkar, 1999), which was completed with the assistance of a Joseba Jaka grant from the Euskalgintza Elkarlanean Foundation, but fantasy plays a larger role in this work than in Metxa esaten dioten agirretar baten ibili herrenak. The writer calls Agirre "a pseudo-burlesque farce."
Izagirre has also tried his hand at literary essay with Gerraurreko literatur kritika [Pre-War Literary Criticism] (written with Iñigo Aranbarri; Labayru, 1996), Gure zinemaren historia petrala [The Roguish History of Our Cinema] (Susa, 1996), Incursiones en territorio enemigo [Incursions into Enemy Territory] (Pamiela, 1997) and Euskararen historia txikia Donostian [A Short History of Basque in San Sebastian] (Susa, 1998), and at biography with Elgeta, sasiaren sustraiak [Elgeta, The Roots of the Bramble] (Trikitixa Elkartea, 2000). Additionally, he wrote the script for a film, Ke arteko egunak [Days of Smoke] (Elkar, 1990), and the anthologies of poetry that comprise the XX. Mendeko Poesia Kaierak [Cahiers of 20th Century Poetry] (Susa, 2000-2002) were published under his direction. The Guipuzcoan author has also done considerable work in translation, having translated the following works, among others, into Basque: Zirtzilak – Kristalezko begia (Susa, 1986) by Alfonso R. Castelao, Bazterrak Os eidos (Pamiela, 1988) by Uxio Novoneyra, Poemak (Susa, 1993) by Vladimir Maiakovski, Antologia (Pamiela, 1995) by Joan Salvat-Papasseit, Mateo Falkone eta beste zenbait istorio (Elkar, 1995) by Prosper Mérimée, Ume txintxoak ez diren umeendako ipuinak (Txalaparta, 1996) by Jacques Prévert, and Jaizkibel (Kilometroak, 1997) and Idi orgaren karranka (Elkar, 2002) by Victor Hugo.
With Sua nahi, Mr. Churchill? [Need a Light, Mr. Churchill?] (Susa, 2005), Izagirre returned to storytelling. The seventeen stories that comprise the book revisit the images introduced earlier in the collection of poems, Non dago Basques' Harbour. "The Spanish Civil War is the book's mythical time, a time of many stories that have endured until today. The writer unites them in the voice of witnesses, whether in the old folks' home or in bars. Izagirre develops stories of all sorts, using not only the best known characters but also the most insignificant (whether they appear in newspapers or not). The latter of course are more worth knowing" (in Roque, Iñigo. "Hau mundo ttipi arranoa!" Mugalari, 21 January, 2006).
For more information on Koldo Izagirre and his works:
- Literaturaren zubitegia, in the website of "armiarma".
- The Gate of Basque Poetry
- Susa argitaletxea
- To read Balizko erroten erresuma in Basque and in Spanish
- To read Non dago Basques' Harbour in Basque, in Spanish and in German
- To read Euzkadi merezi zuten in Spanish
© Translation: Kristin Addis
© Photo: Zaldi Ero
© Non dago Basques' Harbour: Susa
© Nik ere Germinal! egin gura nuen aldarri: Susa
© Sua nahi, Mr. Churchill?: Susa