- I know this is unfair, but someone asked this of me, and it was an interesting challenge: Please describe your book in 10 words or less. (I’ll spot you the words of the title, if you’d like.)
- Many might call these poems “poems of witness,” of you reporting on events that participants were unable to express and/or share for any number of reasons. Here you’re using facts and, of course, your imagination as well. What differences might there be between being a “witness” and being a “writer”?
- Many of these poems are based on stories, either directly from your parents or stories told by your sister or grandmother, and even stories that seem simply to have been “heard” in some way. Ultimately, of course, YOU are the storyteller, and I wonder what burdens—and gifts—that role might have, within your family and also within our larger culture. I mean, we live in an age of reality TV and while there are dark undercurrents thrashing along, America definitely lives under a veneer of sunny optimism, and these stories are hard to hear.
- I’m thinking of how hard it must have been for you and your sister to grow up in this family, given all the loss and terror and, as you write, fear, that your parents lived with. Beyond that, there’s also the fact of having no extended family (as I understand it) from whom to get other stories, or to offer a view of your parents in a larger context, as children themselves, say, or from a point of view different than what your parents present or your own point of view as their child. While you allude in the preface to “running from my otherness,” and there are glimpses of “you” in this work, as hard as it was to write these stories, I wondered if it might be equally hard to reveal yourself and dwell upon this “otherness” you felt.
- In the Epilogue, you refer to one last thing your mother seems to want to reveal, one last terrible event and you tell her that you’re unable to listen to that thing, this worst thing. (She calls you a “baby.”) I wonder if you might speculate on how that event might work within the context of this book: the things you describe are so horrible, so leaving to our imaginations the idea of something worse feels purposeful to me.
- It probably is not possible to answer this question, but I must ask. What do you think keeps people alive in such dire circumstances?
- It was fascinating to me that your mother couldn’t find herself in your poems or open up about her experiences until she read your words in Polish. Was it the Polish writing or something beyond that that helped her unleash the floodgates? Was she finally for whatever reason, ready? What do you think made her so?
- There is much conversation in these poems about what to leave behind, what to bring, what to hold onto, what to carry forward to in the next life. I’m speaking literally and metaphorically, of course, and this tension of “things” spills over into your life as well, with the steamer trunk that you decided not to keep, even though it seemed to be the one thing your parents owned that they hung onto. And yet, the poems conveyed such a strong sense that so much is utterly inescapable, that the things you grab or leave or clutch are meaningless in the face of what can’t be escaped. Can you speak to that tension?
- Why poetry? Why not, say a novel or a memoir? What are the things that poetry can do here that those other forms cannot?
- What is one of your favorite pieces of writing advice and how did you apply it in the course of writing this book?
Other published books include Language of Mules (DP Press), Jezyk mulów i inne wiersze (Biblioteka Śląska), Lightning and Ashes (Steel Toe Books), Third Winter of War: Buchenwald (Finishing Line Press), and Suitcase Charlie (White Stag/Ravenswood). Guzlowski's work has also been included in anthologies such as Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust (Time Being Books), Cherries with Chopin (Moonrise Press), Common Boundary: Stories of Immigration (Editions Bibliotekos), and Longman Academic Reading Series 5 Student Book (Pearson Education ESL). For more information: http://www.amazon.com/John-Z.-Guzlowski/e/B00287TCBG