Monday, 27 March 2017

John Guzlowski - Memory Unfolded

             John Guzlowski - 'Echoes of Tattered Tongues '

At the moment I am meant to be running one website and two blogs related to War Poetry.  All the material has now been merged into one on-line resource and will be available to read soon. 

 And said new website will feature a long interview with John Guzlowski, who uses poetry to retell the experiences of his Polish parents, both as slave labourers for the Third Reich, and then as Polish immigrants to the USA. 

Whilst I am looking forward to publishing a full interview, here is a review of his collection 'Echoes of Tattered Tongues- Memories Unfolded' ; I placed a slightly amended version on Amazon UK.

John also runs an excellent blog titled Lightning and Ashes about the experiences of the Polish people under Nazi Occupation and its aftermath. 

-Michael Bully 

Review of Echoes of Tattered Tongues 

“We came with heavy suitcases
made from wooden boards by brothers
we left behind, came from Buchenwald
and Katowice and before that
Lwow, our mother’s true home

Came with our tongues
in tatters, our teeth in our pockets
hugging on ourselves, our bodies
stiff like frightened ostriches.”


A son of a Polish immigrants , with both parents spending years as labourers in German concentration camps, Professor Guzlowski uses poetry and short pieces of prose to convey their experiences. John Guzlowski was born just after World War 2 in a Displaced Persons camp, and moved with his parents and sister to the USA 1951.

 The writer  initially turned his back on Polish culture and the stigma of being considered a  ‘‘dumb Polack" by those hostile to immigrants, stating that “ I began running from my otherness as soon as I could.” The young John Guzlowski wanted to “ spend as little time as possible thinking about my parents and their Foolishness” along with what his mother called her 'concentration camp shit'. 

As a consequence, he began immersing himself in American Literature, movies and rock n roll. But gives the impression that once he had constructed an American identity, he began to realise
“Really there aren’t a lot of people writing about people like my parents and other DPs” ( displaced persons).

Most of the poems depict the systematic brutality and cruelty of the German occupation and concentration camp life : German soldiers appear in Poland “ like buffaloes , terrible and big” ,

“Soldiers from nowhere
came to my mother’s farm
killed her sister’s baby
with their heels
shot my grandma too

One time in the neck
then for kicks in the face
lots of times…”

-‘My mother was Nineteen’

John Guzlowsi's mother was taken away to be deported to Germany as a concentration camp labourer, whilst other members of the families were killed.

“She learned that the world is a broken place
Where no birds sing, and even angels
Cannot bear the sorrows God gives them.”

-’What the War Taught Her’

Professor Guzlowski’s father also experience the trauma of the camps, losing an eye in the process:

“He ate the leaves off trees. He ate bark,
he ate the flies that tormented
the mules working in the fields.
he ate what would kill a man….

“And when there was nothing to eat
he’d search the ground for pebbles
and they would loosen his saliva
and he would swallow that. “

It’s the starkness of the poetry and it’s lack of romance, along with the economy of language that gives John  Guzlowski’s work such strength. 

Also  the details of concentration life, the fact that his mother faced her first winter in the camps with only the clothes that she was wearing when captured. A guard took her away, raped her, but then left her to live and work with the cattle for warmth.

There’s also a strange enchantment in his work such as in ‘Pigeons’

“My father dreams of pigeons,
their souls, their thin cradles
of bone,but it is their luck

he admires most. A boy in Poznari
in a dawn all orange and pinks,
his hands opened like saint’s “

Professor Guzlowski’s poetry doesn’t offer political or religious explanations let alone solutions to the horrors that his parents and those like them experienced. Just wanting his parents lives recounted in poetry seems to be enough. And he does this so well.

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