Poetry is a Weapon Loaded with the Future

This term I’ve been working on poetry by former ETA prisoner and Basque exile, Joseba Sarrionandia, with my final-year students. His poetry has really made us stop and think about a lot of things, most notably the need for and value of literature and I wanted to share some striking texts in translation. The first is a poem by Gabriel Celaya entitled ‘La poesía es un arma cargada de futuro’. Born in the Basque Country in 1911, Celaya is predominantly recognised as one of the foremost figures within the social poetry movement that developed during the 1950s in Spain as a proponent of resistance literature throughout the regime. In this poem, Celaya outlines the power, the value, and the strength of poetry as a tool and a weapon for bringing about the future and social change.

Poetry is a Weapon Loaded with the Future

When no hope is left,

but something palpates,

remaining beyond conscience,

fiercely existing, blindly asserting,

like a pulse beating the darkness,

when the pale vertiginous eyes are viewed from in front,

they show the truth:

barbarous, terrible, amorous cruelties.

They speak poems that open the lungs of many, asphysxiated

they ask to be

they ask for rhythm

they ask for laws for that which they deem excessive.

With the speed of instinct,

with the ray of wonder,

like magic evidence, the real makes us identical to ourselves.

Poetry for the poor

necessary poetry,

like our daily bread

like the air we demand three times a minute to be and as soon as we are, to give a glorifying yes.

Because we live in fits and starts

because we are scarcely able to say that we are who we are

our songs cannot be an adornment without sin.

We are touching the depths.

I curse the poetry conceived as a cultural luxury by those neutrals who, washing their hands of it, avoid and evade.

I curse the poetry of those who will not take sides to avoid soiling themselves.

I make the faults mine. I feel inside how many suffer, and I sing, breathing.

I sing, and I sing, and singing through my personal pains, I grow.

I would give you life, provoke new acts, and I aim for this by any means possible.

I feel like an engineer of verses and a worker, working with others for Spain in her forges.

Such is my poetry: a poetry-tool

as it whips the unanimous and the blind.

Such it is, a weapon for the expansive future

that I thrust at your chest.

It is not poetry thought out drop by drop.

It is not a beautiful product. It is not a perfect fruit.

It’s something like the air we breathe

and it’s the song that flourishes, no matter how deeply we carry it.

They are words that we all repeat, feeling like our own, they fly. They are more than that which is mentioned.

They are the most necessary: that without a name.

They are shouts in the heavens and on earth they are acts.

Translated by Holly Pike (2015)

The text celebrates the power and the possibility of poetry and is completely contrasted by the following piece by Joseba Sarrionandia,

Poetic Proposal

Destiny was most cruel

when it made us poets.

Poetry isn’t a weapon loaded with future,

like that Gabriel guy proposed.

Bsedies, the future — c’mon, seriously —

is wet gunpowder.

I don’t mean to complicate our sad fate,

my fellow lyricists,

but we have written enough brilliant and

mediocre verse,

almost all of us have penned words

for a famous singer’s songs,

all of us have had a thing or two translated

for an anthology,

almost all of us have produced a script,

on commission,

we have all received an award or two

and enjoyed the flattery,

we are all of us big- or small-time players

in the mud field that is journalism,

we have all unfurled the sails of memory, tinkled

the bells of virtuosity, and now,

after all the poetry slams etc., what do you say

we actually start writing poems?

Translated by Amaia Gabontxo in Gabantxo, Amaia, and Mari Jose Olaziregi, Six Basque poets / translated from the Basque by Amaia Gabantxo ; edited and introduced by Mari Jose Olaziregi. (Todmorden: Arc Publications, 2007)

And quite frankly, how can I follow that?

Translated by Holly Pike, 2015.

They are words that we all repeat, feeling like our own, they fly. They are more than that which is mentioned.

They are the most necessary: that without a name.

They are shouts in the heavens and in the earth they are acts.


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