Thursday, March 31, 2011

John Z. Guzlowski at Bolton Hall on April 17, 2011

JOHN GUZLOWSKI is the author of Lightning and Ashes, a book of poems about his parents’ experiences in Nazi concentration camps; a portion of which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. His stories and poems appear in such national journals as Ontario Review, Chattahoochee Review, Atlanta Review, Nimrod, Crab Orchard Review, and Marge, and in the anthology Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust. Garrison Keillor read Guzlowski’s poem “What My Father Believed” on his program, The Writers’ Almanac. Czeslaw Milosz said that Guzlowski’s poems about his parents are “astonishing.” He blogs about his parents at

Asked about a personal statement about his poetry, John sent the following:

"I was born in a refugee camp in Germany after World War II, and came with my parents Jan and Tekla and my sister Donna to the United States as Displaced Persons in 1951. My Polish Catholic parents had been slave laborers in Nazi Germany. Growing up in the immigrant and DP neighborhoods around Humboldt Park in Chicago, I met Jewish hardware store clerks with Auschwitz tattoos on their wrists, Polish cavalry officers who still mourned for their dead horses, and women who walked from Siberia to Iran to escape the Russians. My poems try to remember them and their voices."

Here's what Czeslaw Milosz had to say about Guzlowski's book:

"In [Guzlowski’s] poems the land of his parents and the work camps are always present, although at the same time they are only part of his poetic repertoire. In the volume which I have at hand, there are a lot of completely different poems, completely free of the burden of the past. This slim volume even astonished me with its doubleness. The first part summons precisely the camp images from the life of the author’s parents, who were treated by the Nazis like beasts of burden. Their awkward language, because they were both half-literate, was for the Nazis a language of mules. The second part reveals an enormous ability for grasping reality with some distance." — Czesław Miłosz

An American poet, Lola Haskins, responded to a different aspect of this poignant book:

"Lightning and Ashes chronicles the terrible things that happened to the poet’s parents in the death camps of WW II. Of course, the atrocities perpetrated on the Jews (and others) have not gone unnoticed in our literature, but Guzlowski should join the annals of the great recording angels, not just for his unsparing yet compassionate language but also because he makes clear what is so easy to forget: that no matter how many years pass, such events never do. That what happened in the camps is like his father’s eye, fixed forever open. In Lightning and Ashes, which might as well have been titled Remembrance, Guzlowski shows us how his family might have lived had the war not happened, then describes unforgettably how they did." —Lola Haskins


John is visiting Southern California as a guest of the Modjeska Art and Culture Club which is sponsoring an event dedicated to the poetry of Nobel-Prize-winner Czeslaw Milosz. Called "Milosz in my Life" and held on April 16, 2011 at 6:30 p.m. at the Ruskin Art Club (800 S. Plymouth Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90005), this evening of poetry will juxtapose John's work and presence with that of Cecilia Woloch, and actor Marek Probosz. See the Modjeska Club blog for more information.

The Bolton Hall Museum Open Poetry Reading is organized by Village Poets of Sunland-Tujunga. More details about the featured poets and dates of readings may be found on the margin of this blog.

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