True Confessions by John Guzlowski, a Review

“On his death bed, my dad was still grieving

For his mom who died when he was five”

And so the great Polish-American poet John Guzlowski explores what happens to all of us in the end, in his short poem Grieving. It also references Robert Frost, cynicism about grief, his own pain at his parents’ death, and the rightful place of grief as part of what makes us human, and most likely, humane.

Guzlowski’s latest offering, True Confessions 1965 to Now, is typical of his work. It’s a mesmerising flow of memoir, reflection and plainspeak dressed in a variety of styles: lyrical, elegaic, angry, Whitmanesque, surreal.

What are we to make of lines like this?

“The thin soup of hope”

“You’re born to April

To its lilacs

It’s silk nights”


“I was lying on the hard sand,

The billion names of God shining

Above me in the darkest sky.”

True Confessions is like a concept album or a mosaic. Its individual poems stand on their own merits but when read as a single piece they paint an emotional and intellectual lifetime of struggling to understand the poet’s myriad experiences. As such some suggest confusion, even bewilderment at what life does to us

“And its old folks in the factories

who went to Church and got drunk”

while others collect those experiences and stabilises them with an assured mind

“I regulate my thoughts

and my breathing

regard the humidity

and dream”

In other words he exposes to the world the whole array of feelings and images we are all party to, but which a great poet can express and present to us. John Guzlowski does this in a way that is immediately accessible, and which cuts to the raw core of who we are; loving, fearful, hurt, hopeful living things.

It’s not a matter of me saying which poems I like most, or even which ones don’t register on my own personal unique lifeometer. We are all biased in our tastes so it would be pointless for me to do so.

What I do believe is true is that the collated inner reaction to reading these poems is akin to receiving a hug from someone dear to you, someone who is simultaneously in agony and in love with being alive.

This, to me, is what makes John Guzlowski a great poet. I mean a really truly great poet, regardless of era or movement or style. True Confessions is, to my mind, his best work to date.

I am convinced that if the critics, especially in America, wake up to the scale and quality of Guzlowski’s oeuvre, they will come to regard him as one of the greatest poets of our lifetime, and it would be so much the better if they did so while he is still alive. Posthumous recognition is an empty shell for those who work to share great empathetic and insightful communications with their fellow beings.

Martin Stepek

28 March 2017


© 2019 by Martin Stepek.