Doug Anderson: Review by Rob Greene


Doug Anderson, Undress, She Said (Four Way Books)


Doug Anderson’s collection—Undress, She Said—has hooks and turns as effective as a James Wright last line. Just ask “Pastor Fred” who felt the crisp belt of one of Anderson’s deft hooks and turns [32].

Many of us are taught to fight for our lives, either as kids or as soldiers or as civilians looking back on traumatic experiences. The content in Doug Anderson’s latest collection Undress, She Said has sound touchstones of conveying empathy and understanding for others as we are all battling to stay alive. Anderson’s collection touches on the elements of war, addiction, recovery, loss, love, work, caretaking, and fear. I opened the book directly to Part II, the section on “The War Doesn’t End.” I can see why the editors at Four Way Books want this chapter to split the center of the spine as it contains elements of war and platoon camaraderie, empathy—even for the enemy in a time of war, and recovery and fears that occur as the wars continue on.

In Anderson’s poem “Splibs and Chucks,” we witness a brotherhood among those who are black along with those who are white who were likely “taught to hate each other in some funky ass bean town in Mississippi” [53]. We can see the loss of a brother through images that give us a glimpse of those we have lost to war and also in tragedy.

We, too, have seen the grim silhouettes in the shadows that mirror images of those from our past. On the trip “Driving Down Route 9 Last Night” we motor on by the Veterans’ hospital, where some of us hallucinate in the radical dark either by way of the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Schizophrenia. I am not positing the speaker has either of these conditions though I, as the reviewer, have both these illnesses so I can easily see the hallucinatory images Anderson conjures up from his memories of the Vietnam war, and yes, these are valid and yes, they are believable.

For reasons that include Doug Anderson’s ability to unflinchingly speak freely of his time in the military, I have much respect and admiration for this poet who shares his careful and thoughtful expressions of these moments in history when Americans were sent to burn “the poisoned land, for reasons that grow dimmer every year we were sent to fight” [60].

Even though we are Veterans from different eras with different experiences, I can still visualize the images in Anderson’s poems as they contain extensive and layered tenors that ride inside the vehicles of the multi-tiered metaphors. These poems have the ability to resonate with service members and also with civilians.

In Anderson’s poem, “Killing with a Name,” given the effective imagery—we can see the platoon members pull the five-foot Vietnamese man from the hole he was battling from to see his face. Never again could the poet call the Vietnamese people by the names the Americans of that time were taught to say in order to vilify the enemy. I shall respect the poet’s wishes here and not repeat the racist epithets that were used to animalize the people of Vietnam due in large part to the propaganda that comes with war. As stated on page 59, while in the villages—it was somewhat easier to “kill its vermin” than it was to harm innocent human beings.

Time and again throughout this book, we are met with Anderson’s bravery to speak out to those who can and do empathize and sympathize with him. In his poem “The Good Doctor” we know that “flattened affect” well and we admire it, because some of us speak in a blunted affect meaning some of us are suppressing our trauma and experiences. At the same time, Anderson speaks “of things too dreadful for others to speak of without trembling” [61].

In lighter moments of the war, if that is possible, Anderson’s poem “Fishing on the Lunar New Year” shows us how some fished with grenades. Yes, a first grenade toss, or drop, can make your palms sweat and your knees will shake. In the poem “Little Chi” we meet a kid selling popsicles on a 120-degree day to the soldiers on both sides. Little Chi reminded me of Ernest Hemingway when he served chocolates and cigarettes to the soldiers. The battle arrived directly in Little Chi’s homeland, and he likely had no choice except to find a purpose during these hellish times.

However, in the poem “The War Doesn’t End” we see signs of xenophobia among the people of today’s Vietnam where those who are of other races and nationalities —Amerasians— the children of soldiers, are unwelcome by some even though Vietnam is the only home they have known. Some may not realize that when soldiers set out on foreign lands, all the illegitimate children created in times of war have no recourse of being supported by their military fathers deployed overseas. There are many born during times of war, and many of these kids are at risk of threats and remaining in extreme poverty. Anderson’s poem reminds us of all those who are left behind, and no “The War Doesn’t End” for them.

To show the effectiveness of the poet along with his ability to convey empathy and care along with the imagery and tenors of this collection, I shall close out this review with Doug Anderson’s poem “Somewhere South of Danang, 1967” from page 66 and yes, the last line gives us hope for a better tomorrow:

At dawn we sit in ambush outside the village.
A cat emerges from the ground fog,
sniffs the air, passes through us
with indifference. The sun
turns the fog to spun glass.
Spiderwebs with drops of dew
hang in the trees.
We see a saffron shape
coming through the fog.
Safeties are eased off. Fingers
rest lightly on triggers.
A young monk emerges from the fog,
kneels on the ground in front of us
closes his eyes and frowns.
We check his ID and send him
on his way. A rooster crows in the village.
Someone lights a fire. We will not fight today.



Rob Greene is the founder and the publisher of Raleigh Review. Born in Mississippi County, Arkansas, Greene received his Ph.D. at the University of Birmingham in England, and his BSc and MFA from North Carolina State University. He has a recent poem in Poem-a-Day at The Academy of American Poets.

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