Peter Filkins, a published poet and literature professor at both Bard and Simon’s Rock colleges, has recently translated the third in a trilogy of novels by German author H.G. Adler. The novels — The Journey, Panorama and, released this past December, The Wall — have garnered critical acclaim from the New York Times, Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. Filkins, a Berkshire County native and resident, was the first to translate any of Holocaust-survivor Adler’s novels into English, giving new life to the works of one of only a handful of Jewish German-speaking writers to survive the concentration camps.
I grew up in Dalton and attended Williams College, where I majored in English. I first studied German when I spent a semester in Vienna. Then, after attending graduate school at Columbia, I returned to the University of Vienna for two years on a Fullbright scholarship. That’s when I really became fluent because I had to use German every day, and I began translating after I read the poems of Ingeborg Bachmann
. I fell in love with them and realized they’d never been published in English, so that was my first work of translation.
When I returned to the states in 1985, I ended up working at the Clark Art Institute
where I met my wife, Susan Roeper, who is now the director of the library there. I’m a full-time professor at Simon’s Rock, as well as a teacher at Bard’s Annandale-on-Hudson campus, leading classes in everything from creative writing and translation theory to Dante and post-war German literature.
I consider myself a poet first. Translation is an extension of the writing life, and it allows me to travel and live a full life. I’m always juggling the two — it’s easier to translate while teaching classes, because to write poetry you need to get away from the world and become dreamy and figure out what you’re trying to do. The poems are always there, but to compose a book of poems takes a couple of years of rewriting, until you get a cohesive and sensible argument.
Right now I’m working on a new book of poems that I’m hoping to finish this year and publish in the next couple of years. I’m also a fellow at the Leon Levy Center for Biography
at the CUNY Graduate Center in NYC, where I’m writing a biography of H.G. Adler, which will most likely be published in 2017.
My family had a summer house on Cheshire Lake, and when I got married, my wife and I turned it into a year-round home. It was a wonderful place to raise our twin daughters, who are now in their twenties. I’ve traveled quite a bit and other places don’t have the rich cultural offerings we have here: the Clark, MASS MoCA
, summertime concerts at Tanglewood
. There are good cafes to work in, like Dottie’s
and No. Six Depot
, and restaurants like Prairie Whale
. I also appreciate The Bookstore
in Lenox and The Bookloft
in Great Barrington. If I had to sum up why I love it here, I’d say ‘food, culture and books.’ There’s been tremendous growth here since I was growing up, but it has retained its character, beautiful countryside and rich history. I like knowing I’m living in the shadows of great writers like Frost, Hawthorne, Dickinson, Melville and Wharton.
I’ve always had good work, and I’m very fortunate to be able to work with great students and other writers and with language as a career. Not a whole lot of people are able to do that.