I was born in a refugee camp in Germany after WWII, and the first Americans I knew were good people, people who saved my family from the Nazis and kept us fed and safe and happy. These Americans were white and black, officers and enlisted men. One of the black soldiers even gave me a black doll, and he told me that in America I would play with children of all kinds. I thought all Americans were like this. When we got to the States, we found the opposite was true. It seemed like most Americans hated to have us here. They called us dumb and dirty Polacks, and they didn’t want us living near them. It was finally in Whitman’s “Song of Myself” that I discovered the America I dreamed of and wanted to live in.”
I spent 12 years in Catholic schools. Some of the nuns and priests were nice people, some of them were brutal, some were pedophiles. What they taught me was that a church was an empty space where no God lived. I can’t say that I’ve found God, but I can say that Jack Kerouac and his books taught me how to search for him.
Survival in Auschwitz -Primo Levi
When I was growing up, I didn’t want to have anything to do with my parents’ memories of the concentration camps, the stories they were always telling me, the world they were always warning me about. Those memories were the shit I wanted to get away from. I wanted to be a science fiction writer writing about enormous alien lizards in neon space suits walking down Broadway in New York looking for adventure and whatever came their way. Primo Levi taught me that I had a responsibility to my parents and the dead they left behind in the concentration camps to tell the story of the camps.
Odes – Paul Carroll
Paul Carroll was my first poetry teacher. He taught me four essential lessons:
- Every poet is the brother and sister of every poet.
- Poetry is all the poems ever written
- Never ever stop writing poems.
- If you are still writing poems on the day you die, you will know the true grace of poetry.
When I first read her poems as a teenager, I thought they were garbage. I said to my friend sitting next to me, they should feed this stuff to the cows. 30 years later, I came to learn what she was trying to teach me but I was too pretentious and full of myself to realize.
John Guzlowski’s writing appears in Rattle, North American Review, Barren, and other journals. Echoes of Tattered Tongues, his memoir about his parents’ experiences as slave laborers in Nazi Germany, won the Benjamin Franklin Poetry Award and the Eric Hoffer/Montaigne Award. His most recent book of poems is called True Confessions. It explains to the world how he went from being a homicidal drunkard and acid head to being a loving husband and father. He is also the author of the Hank and Marvin mystery novels (reviewed in the New York Times) and a columnist for the Dziennik Zwiazkowy, the oldest Polish newspaper in the US.