Misty Slope
Whale Research

Whalers

“The whale fishery was first brought into notice of the southern nations of Europe, in the fifteenth century, by the same Biscayans and Basques, who led the way to the fishery of Newfoundland.”

– Thomas Jefferson

In medieval times, whales were used to create a wide range of products: candles, soap, cosmetics, perfumes, furniture, or to fuel lamps. The Basques started hunting whales as early as the 11th century, but they followed the cetaceans up to North America in the 16th century. From that moment on, Basque whalers spent between six and nine months per year fishing cod and hunting whales near the coasts of Canada and Iceland. They acquired an intrepid reputation throughout Europe, and their mastery of the sea made them the perfect candidates to become privateers.

Witches

“And in particular to show that the situation of the place is partly the cause that there are so many Wizards, it should be known that it is a mountainous country, at the edge of three Kingdoms: France, Navarre, Spain. The mixture of three languages, French, Basque and Spanish [...] all these diversities make it wonderfully convenient for Satan to hold Sabbaths in this place”

– Pierre de Lancre, the judge who conducted the 1609 Basque witch-hunt.

While the men were away at sea for most of the year, Basque women had to earn a living, raise their children, and take care of their home and community. In 1609, a judge from Bordeaux, Pierre de Lancre, conducted a witch-hunt in the French Basque Country. One of the reasons he gave for doing so was that Basque women were too independent. Over the course of four months, he interrogated (and probably tortured) over 400 locals, was responsible for the execution of between 60 and 80 people. The following year, another witch-hunt took place in the Spanish Basque Country, this time in the village of Zugarramurdi. Out of 40 defendants, 12 of them were condemned to burn at the stake by the Inquisition. Others died in jail.

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Wild Horses

Gauchos

“The Argentine gauchos were brutes… they didn’t know how to read or write, and even less who they were fighting for. If we still  remember them, it’s because educated people, who were nothing like them, wrote about them.”

– Jorge Luis Borges

The poor quality of the land and the tradition of the first-born child inheriting the family house forced many Basques to emigrate to America. Between the mid-19th century and early 20th century, some Basques chose to work as shepherds in the United States (particularly in Idaho, Nevada or California), but the great majority preferred South America. They either worked in the hotel trade in cities like Buenos Aires, or as gauchos in the pampas. Today, 10 % of Argentinians, 14% of Uruguayans, and 21% of Chileans have Basque ancestors. The Basque emigration produced a few famous descendants, including Che Guevara!

Misty Slope

The stories behind Whalers, Witches and Gauchos

 

As a history and myth-lover, I have always been fascinated by the fact that the Basques were often involved in “obscure”, risky, or even violent activities such as whaling, witchcraft, or being a gaucho (I should add to the list privateers, smugglers, and kaskarots, who will probably appear in another book!).

Emigration is also inherent to Basque history. From Canada to Argentina, from the USA to Uruguay, the Basques have constantly moved to the other side of the world to take on thankless jobs and improve the lives of their family. All my Basque grandparents have a parent, (grand) uncle or (grand) aunt who emigrated to Argentina at some stage, or settled down there definitely.

There are certainly whalers, witches and gauchos in my pamphlet, but it expands on the theme of modern migration as well. I wanted to blend my ancestors’ experience with my own of being a foreigner in Britain, Ireland and Italy. Actually, the majority of my Basque poems were written abroad, and vice versa!

 

Many poems from the “Whalers” section are family-related, from my own father to his grandparents’ emigration to Argentina before returning to a continent at war.

 

I organised the “Witches” section to accommodate my interest in witchcraft, the history of the 1600s Basque witch-hunt, and my passion for languages. After all, what are hexes and spells if not a way of using language to make things come true? Pierre de Lancre found Basque women suspicious because they could speak two or three languages. I wanted to include some elements of Basque mythology with the figure of the Basajaun, and a few poems emerged from visits to the grottos of Zugarramurdi where local witches were supposed to meet for sabbaths.  

 

Finally, the “Gaucho” subpart deals with various forms of violence, either physical (war) or psychological (bullying), with devastating effects in the short-term (dementia) or long-term (childhood trauma).

 

Whalers, Witches and Gauchos describes insidious forms of rejection, from emigration to persecution, being considered as an outcast by a group of people or being a foreigner who does not feel at home anywhere. I hope you’re going to enjoy reading these poems of belonging and not-belonging as much as I enjoyed writing them!

Full list of published poems

  • Expressio: Rivista di Linguistica, Letteratura e Comunicazione (Italy), "Three Other Ways to Look at Venice", "Tiresias and Moses", "The Via Appia Catacombs", "Best Portrait" and "Beatrice", January 2022

  • The Rialto (UK), "Red Card", December 2021

  • The Worst Best Years: A Student life Anthology - Acid Bath Publishing (UK), "Alma Mater Studio Room", September 2021

  • The Book of Bad Betties: A Bad Betty Press Anthology (UK), “The Spanish Maids”, September 2021

  • The Alchemy Spoon (UK), "I Live in a Fat Lady", August 2021

  • Atelier of Healing: Poetry About Trauma and Recovery (Singapore), "First Phone" and "How I Stopped Hugging My Mother", July 2021

  • harana poetry (UK), "The Frenchwomen of Fulham" and "Haunted by Houses", March 2021

  • Mslexia (UK), "Amerikanoa", March 2021

  • Pollux Journal (USA), "This is How Joan Petit Dances", February 2021

  • Ambit Magazine (UK), "Krieg", October 2020

  • The Scores (UK), "Divine Séraphine", June 2020 

  • Magma (UK), "The Argentinian Rugbywomen", April 2020

  • Stand (UK), "The Basque Witch Hunt, 1610", December 2019

  • The White Review Poet's Prize 2019 (UK), "Etxe", November 2019

  • harana poetry (UK), "My Cricket Kids", June 2019

  • The Honest Ulsterman (UK), “Pikachu in the Musée d’Orsay”, February 2019

  • Foreign Literary journal (South Korea), "The Wandering Basque", February 2019

  • Light Through the Mist: A Shorthand Anthology (UK), "Tiresias and Moses", December 2018

  • Banshee (Ireland), "A Zen Rumination", September 2018

  • Southword Literary Journal (Ireland), "Only the Unemployed Have Time to Watch the Snow Falling", Aug. 2018

  • Wild Court (UK), "Bologna" and "Tiresias and Moses", July 2018 

  • The Best New British and Irish Poets 2018 Anthology (UK), "Tales of the Woodcock", May 2018 ​

  • Into the Void (Canada), "The Black Butterflies", April 2018

  • Ink, Sweat and Tears (UK), “Drunken Roses”, February 2018

  • Skylight 47 (Ireland), “On Painting an Irish Seaside Resort”, November 2017

  • Every Writer (USA), “On Cooking Krakens”, September 2017

  • Banshee (Ireland), “The Blank Tongue”, September 2017

  • The Ofi Press (Mexico), “Sotto il Mare”, August 2017

  • Bare Fiction (UK), “Lipstick Waterproof”, April 2017

  • Shearsman (UK), “The Fall of the West”, “Voodoo Dolls” & “Juliet’s Chest”, April 2017

  • Banshee (Ireland), “Best Portrait”, March 2017

  • Mslexia (UK), “The Kid”, March 2017

  • Into the Void (Canada), “Treasuring Trieste”, October 2016

  • Three Drops From A Cauldron Samhain Poetry Anthology (UK), “Ouija”, October 2016

  • Molly Bloom (Ireland), “The Via Appia Catacombs” & “Hecate’s Cauldron”, September 2016

  • Tears in the Fence (UK), “Soledad Montoya”, September 2016

  • Southword Literary Journal (Ireland), “Magdalenian”, August 2016

  • Dream Catcher (UK), “Humoral Medicine”, August 2016

  • Quantum Leap (UK), “Memento Mori in Highgate Cemetery”, “A Living Doll”, “Shapes from the Past”, “Pygmalion’s Daughter” & “M.A.: A French Sonnet”, August 2016

  • Envoi (UK), “Requiem for Lorca”, June 2016

  • Quantum Leap (UK), “A Modern Watercolour”, February 2016