Thursday, February 27, 2014

Radiant Poetry

Here's a review of my book Lightning and Ashes by Grady Harp.  He's one of Amazon's Top Ten Reviewers.

Radiant Poetry

John Guzlowski has presented us with a book of poems based on his family's harrowing life in the Nazi concentration camps and their subsequent move to the United States, forever tattooed with the horrors of the war experience. The reader begins to look for the reasons for the author's parents confinement - they were Christians, not gypsies, not radicals - and we must turn to the explanation the writer gives for the truth: ' 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 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.' 

What flows from the pages of this book are exchanges of words and creation of memories shared by the author's mother and father about these experiences. Guzlowski's poems are clear, uncluttered by needless metaphors or superimposed styles of writing. They simply speak to us of the horrors experienced and the aftermath of lives forever changed. 

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 if you are stupid 
With your hands you will not survive 
The winter even if you survive the fall. 

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. 

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

She learned that you don't pray 
Your enemies will not torment you. 
You only pray that they will not kill you. 

or from the conversations with his father he writes: 

What My Father Ate 

He ate what he couldn't eat, 
what his mother taught him not to: 
brown grass, small ships of wood, the dirt 
beneath his gray dark fingernails. 

He ate the leaves off tress. He ate bark. 
He ate the flies that tormented 
the mules working in the fields. 
He ate what would kill a man 

in the normal course of his life; 
leather buttons, cloth caps, anything 
small enough to get into his mouth. 
He ate roots. He ate newspaper. 

In his slow clumsy hunger 
he idid what the birds did, picked 
for oats or corn or any kind of seed 
in the dry dung left by the cows. 

And when there was nothing to eat 
he'd search the ground for pebbles 
and they would looses his saliva 
and he would swallow that. 
And the other men did the same. 

Poetry so seemingly simple expresses more anguish, more ache, more compassion than a hundred thick historical novels about the war. The final long poem 'The Third Winter of War: Buchenwald' is unbearably painful to read, but read and remember it we must so that this can never happen again.

Grady Harp


Mr. Harp is one of Amazon's Top 10 Reviewers.  Here's an article about him from Slate.

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