Being in the middle of one of the two months a year in which I get to live as a writer (rather than as an editor, my freelance work for the rest of the year), when I first read this question I couldn’t think of a single answer. Not one. But then, that very afternoon, on the phone trying to get together for a cup of coffee, I heard Bernardo Atxaga—a hero of mine, probably the best-known of contemporary Basque writers (b. 1951), who has made his living from writing for many years—use the word patua about being a writer: it was his “fate,” he said wistfully. Not the writing itself: he loves that, when he’s writing “just because”—ha’atik, a word I first learned from him. But everything about a writer’s life that takes him away from his wife and his daughters and any other semblance of normal Basque life, like taking a companionable break for a cup of coffee.
One Basque word for what you do for a living is ogibide, in which ogi = “bread” and bide = “way, route, method.” And every ogibide, of course, has some downside, no matter how good the bread might be. But there really is no downside to being a poet, or other not-making-a-living-at-this-precise-moment kind of writer, unless you live in a place where they kill poets, at a time when they happen to be killing them. Or unless you have no gainful ogibide, or enough to keep body and soul together, as we used to say.
—Elizabeth Macklin has received both the Ingram Merrill poetry prize and a Guggenheim Fellowship in poetry. Her work has appeared in The Yale Review, The New Yorker and The Paris Review, to name just a few. Her most recent collection is You’ve Just Been Told: Poems.
(photo: ©Txomin Saez)