Found in translation.
While studying at the University of British Columbia, I took a writing course from an unconventional teacher named Peter Levitt.
It was a translation class, for people who didn’t necessarily know how to read in more than one language. It was one of the most profound writing classes I’ve ever taken. This course fundamentally changed the way I wrote and revised my scenes: it brought me oxygen and joy.
Peter teaches you how to find the source of an image – that place that exists without words – and how to revise it so it feels absolutely true.
On April 30, I am thrilled to offer you Peter Levitt’s life-changing writing course, Found in Translation.
I’ve interviewed him here so you can get to know him better. When you’re ready to take the leap and change the way you write your scenes (forever!), read his course description and register for the class.
There are only 12 spots available.
Note: This course is now over, but enjoy the interview with Peter Levitt below.
Peter, you are a poet, a translator, a Zen teacher, an editor, and a writing teacher. How do all of your different selves respond to each other? Are these very different roles, or do they come together in a coherent way that you can explain?
While it’s true that I have these different roles in life, in addition to being a husband, a father, a grandfather, a friend, someone committed to peace work, etc, there is a core that I do my best to maintain that is really at the root of each role. When I was a young man I made a commitment to do everything I could to know the world truly, including myself, without turning away in even the smallest way, and to use what I knew to bring myself, my life, and as much of life as I could touch, to full and authentic expression. It’s a form of love, in a way – of life itself, and all that it provides and can make possible. To that end, my writing and meditation practice, my attempt to cultivate clear seeing and knowing in heart and mind, my teaching of both writing and Zen, can be found right there in that commitment. Have I succeeded? The game is not yet over? Will I? It is not the goal I focus on, but walking each step of the way.
You released a beautiful book of poems this winter: One Hundred Butterflies. Tell me about the collection - how did it come about?
Let me say this: it was enormously enjoyable to think about the question out loud, as it were, and answer as you will see. Great fun. Also, Book Club Buddy is a great site for reader and writers alike. I recommend that while you are over there checking out my reply, you see what else you can find. There’s plenty.
What are some of the joys and surprises that keep you going while you write? Are there any struggles?
William Carlos Williams, the Pulitzer Prize winning American poet [and pediatrician for fifty years, imagine!] said that the poet thinks with the poem, and that, in itself, is the profundity. I couldn’t agree more. I don’t write so much with the idea that I have “something to say”, but so that I can find out what that is, and to give myself the opportunity to give whatever it turns out to be full expression. I teach with the same sense of things in mind. Find out what it is, allow it to find out for itself what it can be as it finds expression in your hands, and give yourself and the writing as much creative space as you need in order to bring all this about. The joy, then, is found in the act of writing. The surprise is found in every word. The struggle is just to stay open, to stay clear and true to the moment in which all of this is taking place.
If you were to think about your writing as a relationship and I asked you, “How are you and writing doing these days?” — how would you answer?
I feel like breaking into a verse of the Beatles and singing, “It’s only love, and that is all, why do I feel the way I do?” Actually, right now, today and this month, I’ve had to put my own new book of what I call ‘poetic fictions” on hold while I complete the manuscript of a new book due on deadline for Shambhala Publications at the end of the month – and I still have to write the book’s introduction! So, there is a bit of longing for each other—my own writing and me—but I don’t mind the longing since it activates the heart, keeps the imagination scouring itself for any possible sightings of the beloved, and promises a wonderful reunion in that time that will definitely come, called soon.
Who is your ideal student? Who do you want to take your class?
I designed this course for all writers in all genres who are willing to find out how to go to the place before words, so that what they write has the greatest chance of being authentic, fresh, free from habits and hindrances, exciting, and true. And the amazing thing is, as you yourself know, Sarah, it can be done. When students are willing to just leap off the one hundred foot pole, as is said in Zen, the result is a flight that lasts a lifetime. So, those are the writers I most enjoy working with.
Your course teaches writing and creativity so unconventionally, and yet so effectively. But I’ve noticed it’s hard to explain what it’s really like! What if students read your course description and still don’t know what to expect from Found in Translation?
Not knowing what to expect is a good thing! It means we are approaching the writing with complete openness (though, of course, there is always a bit of anxiety at the beginning because of the sense that we are taking a risk), and this openness includes the very alertness and receptivity to the new, to what might come in unbidden, that original writing needs. "Not knowing," then, is an asset I would treasure. The painter Paul Klee wrote, "When I paint what I know, I bore me. And, when I paint what you know, I bore you. So I paint what I don't know."
I think it's pretty wonderful to be able to say such a thing. It expresses to our deepest self, the deepest part of our heart and mind, the most unplumbed depths of our imagination, that we trust it, that we are sincere in our longing to write from the most authentic place possible, and that we will receive what it gives us with sincerity as we begin to find out how to use the words, images, characters, plots, metaphors and symbols we are given.
Our relationship to this deep self is an essential part of the writing process and this course helps to open the gateway (some have said "the floodgates") between our everyday conscious mind and that deeper mind we tend only to meet in dreams. It strengthens intuition and knowing on a more regular basis so that our writing is more accurate, more expressive, more true. We may have all the craft skills in the world, but if we do not have a true relationship to the deepest part of who and what we are, and we do not have ready access to these parts of ourselves, we may not have so much to say, no matter how much we use that craft.
So, in addition to everything else it might do, this course places the craft of accessing the place from which the writer writes in the writer's hands, which are just itching to have something real, something original, something previously unsaid and maybe known to do.