Poetry(old)

The View We’re Granted. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins UP, 2012.filkins

Winner of the Sheila Motton Best Book Award from the New England Poetry Club

In the pivotal poem “Marking Time,” which appears almost exactly halfway through Peter Filkins’s fourth collection of poetry, the speaker reflects on the death of a sibling and how time is marked by our memories. These memories, these moments– whether spent contemplating a painting  by Verneer or the simple toss of a bean bag– ultimately shape who we are. “Yet you are with me here, with me here again / where neither that moon nor your exist, but live / tethered to this memory composed of words.”

These are poems unafraid to be graceful and engaging. They attain an assurance and stability rare in contemporary poetry, while their careful balance of sadness and joy reminds the reader of the difficult negotiations we make in life.

“A deeply moving collection. Filkins traces out the rhythms of loss and renewal, of childhood and adulthood, in a blank verse so skillfully worked it seems effortless. Very few poets today write with such power and assurance.”
– John Koethe

“As one who hailed Peter Filkins’s stunning first book, I am happy to say that its great promise has been realized with The View We’re Granted.”
Richard Wilbur

“His subtle art touches the pulse of both sorrow and praise.”
– Rosanna Warren

“Peter Filkins manages to use form to lure the colloquial towards song, as well as to invest moments of song with an awareness of the perils and possibilities of our everyday world. It’s a tension that is revelatory, and one that claims, at the end, the power of poetry to survive, and to help us.”
–Lawrence Raab

9780981780290Augustine’s Vision. Milwaukee: New American Press, 2010.

Winner of the New American Press Chapbook Award

“Peter Filkins’ beautifully articulated, reticulated poems are filled with questions, and the questions they’re filled with are the unanswerable ones. Their distinction and power lie in their ability to make us ask those questions, too, as if for the first time.”
–Vijay Seshadri

“Of Peter Filkins’s first book, What She Knew, Richard Wilbur noted the subtle blending of “concrete description and the flow of memory and idea.” This blending and flow, the way the world contains an idea and an idea returns us to the world, are important strategies in these poems as they move from the historical to the personal, from the elegiac to the celebratory.”
– Lawrence Raab

“By turns discursive, dramatic, and lyrical, Augustine’s Vision presents a startlingly good poet who courageously interrogates ideas of evil, sin, and death while celebrating the goodness of creation, including both nature and the creations of humankind. Indeed, many of the poems are inspired responses to other artists: Vermeer, Monet, Wilfred Owen, Polanski’s Chinatown. The poet’s own work bids fair to inspire others, as beautiful phrases such as “flowers / afloat on the air” or “a stillness loud with geese” float to the surface of the page. In particular, his poem “Waterlilies,” consisting of a single sentence that runs for twenty-one lies, is a marvelous summation of the contrary elements that art makes cohere. You won’t want to miss this ambitious collection that possesses poise, grace, and intellectual fearlessness.”
– Kelly Cherry

AfterHomerAfter Homer. New York: George Braziller, 2002.

Written in a voice both direct and timely, Peter Filkins’ second book of poems speaks to our present historical moment and its place within the passage of time. Intimately personal and political, the poems remain anchored in a formal complexity that delivery clarity and nuance to the ideas set forth within them. Whether writing on the sinking of the Lusitania, the death of Chekhov, or his father’s passing, Filkins reminds us that, no matter the loss, “poetry will survive,” helped by the studied meditation he brings to it.

More than a book of poems, After Homer is the record of a mind trying to grapple with the suffering and outrage of history in a time when “terror’s partisan love / trades in wreckage like futures” (“Elegy for Joseph Brodsky”), forcing each of us to search “for another metaphor to live by” (“The Fly”). Whether echoing the Persian Gulf War while evoking “the little crucifixion of a missile’s sights” (“Dominion”), or writing about “The Venus of Willendorf,” a carved figurine dating from 30,000 to 20,000 B.C., Filkins underscores the Homeric notion that there is “nothing sadder than man,” though arguing nonetheless that “Love is the answer we give back” (“In Weather”), no matter the trials we face.

After Homer displays a breadth and variety that few books achieve. Even more impressive is the skill and subtlety with which Filkins weaves together such disparate material, his wide range of formal approaches allowing him to move from the secular to the sublime, between outrage and compassion, from love to loss with the turn of a page.

“I read After Homer with intense pleasure. Filkins is a marvelous poet… He hunts and finds essential metaphors in abundance in this mature and richly various book… After Homer is among the finest collections I’ve encountered in recent years– a distinguished volume by an important voice in American poetry.”
– Jay Parini

“The pleasures of this wide-ranging collection are substantial and surprising… Filkins has all the moves, and his formal mastery… [is] put to fine use as he ranges through time and place with intelligence, wit, and compassion.”
– Joan Murray

“Peter Filkins is a remarkably accomplished poet whose powers continue to grow and surprise. After Homer is proof of his psychological insight, lyrical gifts, and ability to move the reader.”
– Louis Begley

 Screen Shot 2013-01-17 at 11.57.47 AMWhat She Knew. Washington DC: Orchises Press, 1998.

“There are breathtaking phrases in this fine collection, as when a flock of symbolic geese rise from earth in “a garland of distress that honks and shudders,” or falling snow is seen as “an intricate message / about the reticence of winter.” But in general Peter Filkins’s work avoids bravura; it has a quieter virtuosity which makes the total evocation of a Brueghel look easy (“Driving the Cattle Home”), conveys sensory experience with an arresting rightness (“The Film,” “The Fever”), and subtly blends, in many a poem, concrete description and the flow of memory and idea. A little poem like “Christmas at the Airport” asks an answering subtlety of the reader, if its full point and poignancy are to be grasped. What She Knew– which is further distinguished in the unusual variety of its forms and modes– is an admirable first book.”
– Richard Wilbur

“One of the many pleasures of What She Knew is its consistency of tone (rare, I think, in a first collection), the way the poems add up to create a singular sensibility: a man who is humane but wary, alert to the deceptions of our world, yet drawn to praise, to celebrate renewal when renewal means “something that we make, then remake once again.” This is the awareness and action of these poems– how it becomes possible for us to see the world and return “a little more amazed.” Peter Filkins’s skillful and illuminating poems help us approach that condition.”
–Lawrence Raab

Translations(old)

PANORAMA

Panorama, by H.G. Adler. New York: Random House, 2011. (Modern Library Paperback, 2012)

Panorama is a portrait of a place and people soon to be destroyed, as seen through the eyes of young Josef Kramer. Told in ten distinct scenes, it begins in pastoral World War I–era Bohemia, where the boy passively witnesses the “wonders of the world” in a thrilling panorama display; follows him to a German boarding school full of creeping xenophobia and prejudice; and finds him in young adulthood sent to a labor camp and then to one of the infamous extermination camps, before he chooses exile abroad after the war. Josef’s philosophical journey mirrors the author’s own: from a stoic acceptance of events to a realization that “the viewer is also the participant” and that action must be taken in life, if only to make sure the dead are not forgotten.

Achieving a stream-of-consciousness power reminiscent of James-Joyce and Gertrude Stein, H. G. Adler is a modern artist with unique historical importance. Panorama  is lasting evidence of both the torment of his life and the triumph of his gifts. Published for the first time in English, Panorama is a superb rediscovered novel of the Holocaust by a neglected modern master. One of a handful of death camp survivors to fictionalize his experiences in German, H. G. Adler is  referenced by W.G. Sebald in his classic novel Austerlitz, and a direct literary descendant of Kafka.

A New York Times Editor’s Choice

“The novel’s streaming consciousness and verbal play invite comparison with Joyce, the individual-dwarfing scale of law and prohibition brings Kafka to mind, and there is something in the hypnotic pulse of the prose that is reminiscent of Gertrude Stein.”
– The New York Times Book Review

“[Adler] produced a quantity and a diversity of writings about the Holocaust that seem to have been equaled by no other survivor…. The Journey and Panorama are very different works, each with its own distinctive style, but both are modernist masterpieces worthy of comparison to those of Kafka and Musil.”                                                                                  — The New Yorker

“A haunting narrative… [Panorama] is as remarkable for its literary experimentation as for its historical testimony… [Adler] provides an artful and brutal description… that nearly guarantees Panorama a place in the canon of Holocaust literature.”                           — The San Francisco Chronicle

“An important literary and historical contribution to a lost age… much in the tradition of, say, James Joyce…. Through the sheer richness and volume of detail, it achieves an unimpeachable veracity of character and tone…. The reader owes Adler’s translator a debt for introducing his work to the English-reading world.”                                             –The Jerusalem Post

“A masterpiece of modern fiction.”
– The Times Literary Supplement

JOURNEYThe Journey, by H.G. Adler. New York: Random House, 2008. (Modern Library Paperback, 2009)

When Peter Filkins discovered an obscure German novel in a Harvard Square bookstore, he realized that it was a treasure unavailable to English speakers. It was the most powerful book by the late H. G. Adler, a survivor of Theresienstadt and Auschwitz, a writer whose work had been praised by authors from Elias Canetti to Heinrich Böll and yet remained unknown to international audiences.

Written in 1950, after Adler’s emigration to England, The Journey was not released in Germany until 1962. After the war, larger publishing houses stayed away from novels about the Holocaust, feeling that the tragedy could not be fictionalized and that any metaphorical interpretation was obscene. Only a small publisher was in those days willing to take on The Journey.

Avoiding specific mention of countries or camps– even of Nazis and Jews– The Journey  is a lyrical nightmare of a family’s ordeal and one member’s survival. Led by the doctor patriarch Leopold, the Lustig family finds itself “forbidden” to live, uprooted into a surreal and incomprehensible circumstance of deprivation and death. This cataclysm destroys father, daughter, sister, and wife and leaves only Paul, the son, to live again among those who saved or sacrificed him. The Journey reveals a world beset by an “epidemic of mental illness… As a result of the epidemic, everyone was crazy, and once they finally recognized what was happening it was too late.” Linked by its innovative style to the work of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, The Journey  proves that art can portray the unimaginable and expand people’s perceptions of it, a work anyone interested in recent history and modern literature must read.

A New York Times Editor’s Choice

“The novel’s streaming consciousness and verbal play invite comparison with Joyce, the individual-dwarfing scale of law and prohibition brings Kafka to mind, and there is something in the hypnotic pulse of the prose that is reminiscent of Gertrud Stein.”            — The New York Times Book Review

“A tribute to the survival of art and a poignant teaching in the art of survival. I tend to shy away from Holocaust fiction, but this book helps redeem an all-but-impossible genre.”
– Harold Bloom

“H.G. Adler’s The Journey, published first in 1962, captures the anguished cry of a survivor of the Holocaust as his world becomes reduced to his family and the family is murdered one by one. One of a slim handful of novels written in German by the survivors of Hitler’s murder of European Jewry, Adler’s personal and intimate tale allows us to observe the slow-motion destruction of a society and of a family.”
– Sander L. Gilman, author of Jurek Becker: A Life in Five Words

“This is a rediscovery of a rich and lyrical masterpiece– a haunting account of a family of victims being drawn step by step into the Holocaust, aware only of each event as it happens to them. Filkins’s sensitive translation mirrors the taut, rising suspense of this moving novel.”
–Peter Constantine, recipient of the PEN Translation Prize

“There is an old Hasidic saying: If you carry your own lantern, you will endure the dark. And today as the generation of survivors is almost gone, H.G. Alder’s The Journey– a reclaimed masterpiece– illuminates their soul and safeguards their spirit. This powerful work, both lyrical and stark, is a rekindled light through the dark of the past, to be embraced as one would an inheritance.”
– Bernice Eisenstein, author of I Was a Child of Holocaust Survivors

“[An] extraordinarily ambitious attempt to articulate the unspeakable.”
Kirkus Reviews

Darkness SpokenDarkness Spoken: The Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann (Translator, 2nd

Darkness Spoken collects Ingeborg Bachman’s two celebrated books of poetry, as well as the early and late poems not collected in book form. This edition also contains 129 poems released from Bachmann’s archives that have never before been translated. Twenty-five of these poems appear in German in this bilingual edition for the first time anywhere, making Darkness Spoken the most complete volume of her poetry in English and German.

Born in Austria in 1926, Bachmann is considered one of the premiere German language poets of her generation. Her various awards include the Georg Büchner Prize, the Berlin Critics Prize, the Bremen Award, and the Austrian State Prize for literature.

“…we must be immensely grateful that Peter Filkins has now given us the fullest and the best translations we have in English of this magnificent poet.”
– Charles Simic

“Ingeborg Bachmann is regarded as one of the half-dozen most important German-language writers of the second half of the twentieth century. And in the acclaim for her passionate and varied body of work, a supreme place is usually granted to her poetry. English-language readers still don’t have enough Bachmann to read, but this volume of eloquent translations (and an excellent essay and notes by the translator) is the best of all possible beginnings.”
– Susan Sontag

the franza caseThe Franza Case and Requiem for Fanny Goldmann, by Ingeborg Bachmann (Translator). Evanston: Northwestern UP, 1999.

These unfinished novels, Ingeborg Backmann’s only untranslated works of fiction, were intended to follow her widely acclaimed work Malina in a cycle to be entitled Todesarten, or Ways of Dying. Although Bachmann died before completing them, The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldmann stand on their own, continuing Bachmann’s tradition of using language to confront the disease plaguing human relationships. Through the tales of two women in postwar Austria, Backmann explores the “ways of dying” inflicted upon the living from the outside and from within, through history, politics, religion, family, gender relations, and the self.

Bachmann’s perception of fascism as not being limited to the context of the war but also existing within the intimate relations of everyday life– between husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, psychiatrists and patients– is evident in The Book of Franza. A woman escapes from a sanatorium and, after years of silence, sends her brother a cryptic telegram. Rightly suspecting that she has fled her sadistic husband– a renowned Austrian psychiatrist whose intimate relations have merged with his studies of concentration camps– her brother finds her in their childhood home. They travel to Egypt, where Franza slowly begins to regain her bearings. But Franza’s desire to cleanse herself by journeying into the heart of the desert’s void ends in tragedy.

The heroine of Requiem for Fanny Goldmann makes no attempt to escape her history. Fanny, a Viennese actress, is manipulated by an ambitious playwright. Deception follows disloyalty, and the final treachery comes when the playwright portrays her in a novel, securing his fame but robbing Fanny of her future. Caught in a perpetual stasis, suffering in obscurity, Fanny’s present is stolen from her as well.

Whether analyzing the place where the self begins and the power of history ends, or the ways in which women are forced to be complicit in their mistreatment at the hands of men, Bachmann’s critical approach to the human psyche is unparalleled. The Book of Franza and Requiem for Fanny Goldmann prove that Ingeborg Bachmann is the most important female German-language writer of the postwar period.

“Reading Ingeborg Bachmann necessarily entails abandoning the terms of one’s own comfort, following in her enterprise of seeing everything, covering over nothing that might terrify or make the ordinary life impossible to live. Her relentlessness of vision demands that the reader allow him- or herself to be hypnotized, taken over by her repetitive cadences and burning images of grief and loss. Ms. Bachmann’s vision is structured by a series of mutually annihilating pairs: thought and action, life and truth, female and make. She burns up the ordinary, muffling possibilities, the compromises, the dialectics of accommodation and survival. And yet, in the beauty of her images, in her belief in a merciful natural order– from which the moral, thinking human is almost entirely cut off– there is tremendous affirmation in her world.”
– New York Times Book Review

Leonardo’s Hands, by Alois Hotschnig (Translator). U of Nebraska P,  1999.

leonardo's handsLate one night a young engineer named Kurt Weyrath is involved in a highway accident that leaves a middle-aged couple dead and their twenty-four-year-old daughter, Anna Kainz, in a coma. Tormented afterward by his guilt for having fled the scene of the accident, Kurt quits his job, leaves his longtime girlfriend, and joins an ambulance service so that he might come into contact with the comatose young woman. He becomes closely involved in her life– helping with her therapies, visiting her old neighborhood, attending art classes she has taken, and searching for anyone who has known her. A year and a half later, Anna awakens from her coma, and Kurt discovers that she is a vastly different woman from the one he has imagined. The novel’s pace increases as Kurt and Anna together recover her past– and that past inexorably catches up with them.

“A critique of perverse powers of relations.”
Neue Zürcher Zeitung

“In forging his own unique language [Hotschnig] constructs a novel that is not only suspenseful, but also contains complex characters whose psychology is powerfully convincing. The result is an achievement that places Alois Hotschnig in the first rank of German writers.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

9781568860107Songs in Flight: The Collected Poems of Ingeborg Bachmann (Translator). New York: Marsilio Publishers, 1994.

Songs in Flight gathers together Bachmann’s two celebrate books of poetry, as well as the early and late poems not collected in book form. Given that Bachmann and Paul Celan are considered to be the two most important poets to emerge in post-war German letters, this volume represents an introduction to a major voice in 20th-century poetry that is long overdue.

Influencing numerous writers from Thomas Bernhard to Christa Wolf, Bachmann’s poetic investigation into the nature and limits of language in the face of history remains unmatched in its ability to combine philosophical insight with haunting lyricism. Just as Bachmann’s Malina  sought to expand the possibilities of the novel, Songs in Flight contains the bedrock of a vision as far reaching as it is indelible, and as uncompromising as it is bound to hope.

“Poet, short story writer, novelist, essayist, Ingeborg Bachmann is regarded as one of the half-dozen most important German-language writers of the second half of the twentieth century. And in the acclaim for her passionate and varied body of work, a supreme place is usually granted to her poetry. English-language readers still don’t have enough Bachmann to read, but this volume of eloquent translations (and an excellent essay and notes by the translator) is the best of all possible beginnings.”
– Susan Sontag