March 28, 2007
Bowling Green, KY—Steel Toe Books announces the publication of John Guzlowski’s verse memoir Lightning and Ashes.
For the last thirty years, John Guzlowski’s primary subject has been the experience of his parents before, during, and after the Second World War. Both were taken into Nazi Germany as slave laborers. His father was captured in 1940 outside of Poznan, Poland. His mother was captured near her home west of Lvov, Poland, and transported in 1942. They worked in concentration camps and the associated factories and farms until the end of the war. They met in those camps. Afterwards, they married and lived in refugee camps in Germany until 1951 when they came to the United States with their two children, John and his sister Donna, as Displaced Persons.
Here’s what Guzlowski says about his writing: “My poems try to give my parents and their experiences a voice. They had very little education. My father never went to school and could barely write his name. My mother had a couple years of formal education. I felt that I had to tell the stories they would have written if they could. For the last thirty years I have been writing poems about their lives, and I sometimes think that I am not only writing about their lives, but also about the lives of all those forgotten–voiceless refugees, DP’s, and survivors that the last century produced.
“I’ve tried to use language free of emotions in these poems. When my parents told me many of the stories that became my poems, they spoke in plain, straightforward language. They didn’t try to emphasize the emotional aspect of their experience; instead, they told their stories in a matter-of-fact way. This happened, they’d say, and then this happened: The soldier hit me with a club, and then he hit the man next to me, and then he moved on to the next man.”
The reader gets a sense of this in the opening stanzas of Guzlowski's poem "What the War Taught Her":
My mother learned that sex is bad,
Men are worthless, it is always cold
And there is never enough to eat.
She learned that only the young survive
The camps. The old are left in piles
Like worthless paper, and babies
Are scarce like chickens and bread.
Guzlowski’s poems are written with a stark, emotionless clarity that builds from poem to poem and opens up a world that is both distant and close. By the end of the book, readers feel they know his parents, the horrors they experienced and the ways they tried to live with those memories after the war.
John Guzlowski is a retired professor of English. His poems about his parents have appeared in his books Language of Mules (1999) and The Third Winter of War: Buchenwald (2007), and in little magazines like The Crab Orchard Review, Margie, Nimrod, and Spoon River Poetry Review.
For more information about Steel Toe Books, visit www.steeltoebooks.com.