Bertsolaritza: Basque improvised poetry; preserving the language

Improvisational poets battle it out every four years

Bertsolariak - improvisational poets - sing at gatherings, sports matches, political meetings, and, every four years, they challenge each other at a national championship.

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3/30/2017 | By: Jill Stockton |

Can a group of eight poets using one of the oldest languages of the world gather thousands of people for listening to poetry for a whole day? Yes, this is real, and it happens every four years during the finals of the national championship of Bertsolaritza or Basque improvised poetry.

Preserving the Basque Language

Orality has been the main means of transmission for the Basque language until recently and Bertsolaritza, a sung and improvised poem creation, is the most stunning Basque cultural activity. Bertsolariak, improvisational poets, sing at gatherings, sports matches, political meetings, and, every four years, they challenge each other at the national championship.

Experience Bertsolaritza at 5:30 p.m., Monday, April 3, in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center Wells Fargo Auditorium. The campus community and members of the Reno-Sparks community are welcome to attend a free and open to the public screening of Bertsolari, a documentary about Bertsolaritza by renowned director Asier Altuna. The screening will be followed by a Q&A session with professors Joseba Zulaika and Xabier Irujo from the Center for Basque Studies, who will guide audience members in understanding the inner life of this astounding art form.

Improvised poetry as art

Bertsolari, the film, is an art piece itself, with a mix of interviews with researchers, recordings of performances, and dreamlike images. Over the course of 90 minutes attendees will learn how Bertsolaritza is related to other improvised poetries like Slam poetry, see how the Bertsolari's mind works when she is composing a poem, and live the emotion of thousands of people gathering to listen poetry.

"Since I arrived in Reno in September 2015 to take the position of Basque Librarian at the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries, one of my goals has been to spread the word about Basque Culture in Reno and beyond," Iñaki Baro, Basque librarian, said. "The Jon Bilbao Basque Library has a special interest in raising awareness about Bertsolaritza, an activity that the Basque-Americans enjoy at all their festivals."

Bertsolaritza resources

For additional information on Bertsolaritza visit the Association of the Friends of Bertsolaritza site or read Voicing the Moment, a book by the Center for Basque Studies available at ScholarWorks.

Event details

Bertsolari will be screened on April 3rd, 2017 at 5:30 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Auditorium in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center. The audio is in Basque, English, and Spanish, with English subtitles.

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