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Echoes of Tattered Tongues: Memory Unfolded Hardcover – March 7, 2016
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From Publishers Weekly
"Deeply moving. John Guzlowski has written a powerful, lasting, and sometimes shocking book, one in which prose and poetry join hands to document a felt comprehension of the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis in WWII. He tells the stories his parents would have told had they not been living them. Thus these pages honor his forebears and indeed all those who were in the camps. The stories will haunt you but we must read them or fail to grasp what humans can do to humans. Anyone who wishes to consider himself or herself knowledgeable about the world in which, for better or for worse, we live, will read this superb book." -- Kelly Cherry, Poet Laureate of Virginia (2010-2012)
"Remarkable blend of academic scrutiny with stark, uncompromising humanity. What I find fascinating is Guzlowski's ability to always say something new…balancing overarching social commentary with the smallest, heart-wrenching details." -- Michael Meyerhofer, Atticus Review, on Guzlowski's earlier work. Atticus Review, September 3, 2013, http://atticusreview.org/featured-poet-john-guzlowski/
The son of two Nazi concentration camp prisoners, John Guzlowski was born in a Displaced Persons camp and immigrated to Chicago with his little sister and Polish mother and father shortly after WWII. This devastating, one-of-a-kind collection uses poems and short essays to reveal unspeakable moments from his parents' wartime experiences, and the less-than-open arms America mostly extended to millions of families fleeing the ruins of Europe. -- Matt Sutherland, Foreword Reviews, Spring 2016; https://www.forewordreviews.com/reviews/echoes-of-tattered-tongues/
"A wonderful book and a very important one. Unwaveringly lucid and luminous poems...leave his readers with no safe perches yet show them how to mourn and praise. Extraordinary." -- Charles Ades Fishman, Editor of 'Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust" and Poetry Editor of "PRISM: An Interdisciplinary Journal for Holocaust"
Like most immigrant kids, John Guzlowski never wanted to write about his Polish parents and the world they left when they came to America.... Unlike most stories of this kind, however, Guzlowski's is told mostly in poems, which forces the author to wield formal control over a material that's painful and distressing. Luckily for us, in Echoes of Tattered Tongues: Memory Unfolded (Aquila Polonica, 2016), Guzlowski writes taut poems―he cares about the narrative as much as the voice or the image....These beautifully realized lines not only showcase Guzlowski's poetic sensibility but also keep the poem from slipping into sentimentality.... Guzlowski aims to write not only about his parents' lives “but also about the lives of all those forgotten, voiceless refugees, DPs, and survivors that the last century produced, no matter where they came from.” In doing so, he appeals to our shared desire to understand how the present continues to be shaped by the past. http://www.worldliteraturetoday.org/blog/book-reviews/channeling-other-review-echoes-tattered-tongues-john-guzlowski, World Literature Today, April 13, 2016
Book Trailer of the Day: Echoes of Tattered Tongues. A searing memoir by the poet who, with his Polish parents--who worked as slave laborers in Nazi concentration camps--were refugees and settled in the U.S. in 1951.Book Trailer at https://youtu.be/eTCWlnyx8vw (http://www.shelf-awareness.com/issue.html?issue=2664#m30988), Shelf Awareness
John Guzlowski’s rugged poems rise like a land-bridge emerging from would-be oblivion to connect continents, generations, and a deeply felt personal present with the tragic, implacable history of the twentieth century. -- Stuart Dybek
I could not praise it enough—masterfully done. Reads almost like a novel. -- Gregory F. Tague, Professor
It's hard to read this book. Not because the prose is in any way turgid or the poetry difficult in that pretentious way that once was the fashion. It's hard to read this book because it is so honest. So clear. Like a crystal clear day you get in the cold sunlight of winter...it shines…like seeing into people's souls… This is a book to hold and to hug, to stroke softly. -- Martin Stepek
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Echoes is largely the story of Guzlowski’s parents, as well as the story of how he came to learn from them the parts of that story he didn’t already know. It progresses in three movements, each movement delving deeper into the past—unfolding memory and uncovering missing pieces of the historical record: from his parents’ twilight years, to mid-century—John’s childhood—when they left the DP camp in Germany and emigrated to America, and finally, to the War itself, and the root of the deep unhappiness his parents carried with them to the grave.
Guzlowski’s attempt to learn and feel the origins of his parents’ pain brings us into closer emotional touch with the entirety of the War in Europe, widening by necessity from the particular to the general. It is a unorthodox way of telling such a story: though there are many examples of poems written by poets who experienced the camps firsthand, examples of secondhand histories told in verse are thin indeed. And yet it works, in ways that defy analysis or easy summary. Guzlowski’s empathy and imagination are extraordinary, at times truly shocking. His verse, which brings to mind variously Charles Bukowski, Charles Simic, and Philip Levine, has a vernacular concreteness and clarity that is all the more startling when it breaks sharply with realism, and he deftly captures those quirks of personality that bring characters into full view. Less than halfway through the book, I had unconsciously slipped from thinking What a novel way to tell this story to I can’t imagine how else it could be told.
And as if that weren’t enough, Aquila Polonica Publishing deserves great credit for producing a book that is a beautiful artifact, from its cloth and leather binding, to its creamy paper, to the stunning photographs that accompany the text. In every respect, Echoes of Tattered Tongues is an achievement that deserves wide recognition and long remembrance.
Top international reviews
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. G. was born just after World War 2 in a Displaced Persons camp, and moved with his parents and sister to the USA 1951.
John Guzlowski. as a young man turned his back on Polish immigrant culture and the stigma of being a ‘‘dumb" 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 his parents' war trauma.
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 raped many times then taken away to be deported to Germany as a concentration camp labourer. Her sister was brutally 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’
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 Guzlowski’s work such strength. Also so 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 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.