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Review: Undress, She Said by Doug Anderson
Review: Undress, She Said by Doug Anderson
Four Way Books, September, 2022
$17.95, 102 pages
Reviewed by Thomas Page
What would happen if someone were to break down our stereotype of the male poet, the one spending his time typing away at his keyboard about his problems with his body and those he wishes to share it with? Doug Anderson seeks to find this answer in his latest poetry collection. Undress, She Said is a vividly crafted poetry collection that takes the reader down the path of the traditional masculine poet-voice and his relationship with his sense of place. This sense of place forms the backbone of the collection’s debate about how pride, sexuality, and memory impact the mind of a man in a war-dominate society. Doug Anderson opens with “Prophesy,” setting the stage for the theme of accepting fate that is pervasive throughout the collection. In support of this theme, he writes,
“There is a storm coming,
clouds opening, closing their fists.
No point in boarding up the house” (3).
The speaker in this collection is subjected to a variety of influences that make him desensitized to the many problems of the collection’s world. Undress, She Said is divided into four parts that talk about each of these influences: “Love in Plague Time,” “The War Doesn’t End,” “Homage,” and “Mythologies.”
In “Love in Plague Time,” Anderson writes about the convergence of religion, morality, and desire that complicate how the speaker interacts with his world. This is the longest section of the book and serves as a “part 1” to the collection’s themes. The content of the poems in this section ranges from mental health (“When the Plague Came”) to sexuality (“Masturbation”). This section is imbued with the apathy that comes from a life conflicted between what the speaker wants to do and what he should do. For example, in “Skeleton of Water,” Anderson toes the line between these two ideas, writing,
“I was a failure as a libertine, always falling in love,
lacked the detachment of a true rake, drank to hide
my heart’s anarchy, the knowledge that the angels
I wrestled with were divine” (30).
His technical approach in this section is to alienate the voice from his world through various snapshots of his past. The focus on the past self and the present voice helps to characterize the kind of voice that will be taking the reader throughout the reflections in the rest of the book. The speaker discusses how life in an idyllic setting can make him feel ostracized by his own people.
Anderson centers these themes of morality into the realm of military veterans who come from his society in the second section, “The War Doesn’t End.” This section is primarily focused on veterans from the Vietnam War and how the war has affected their lives. In the title poem “The War Doesn’t End” Anderson reflects on a mixed-race solider he meets in Ho Chi Mihn City after the war has ended, saying that the soldier is:
“Mixed black and Vietnamese, unwelcome here,
unwelcome there, son of a soldier gone” (65).
This “soldier gone” forms the narrative backbone of this second section as Anderson navigates through the indoctrination the Marines received (“Killing with a Name”) to how this allowed them to inflict turmoil on others (“Somewhere South of Danang, 1967”). Anderson demonstrates his narrative skill in his poetry through the lyrical story his voice tells in this section. He also connects the speaker’s problems with his life before in “Love in Plague Time” to the lack of interest in the problems of “The War Doesn’t End.”
The two sides of the speaker—the apathetic citizen (“Love in the Plague Time”) and the desensitized Marine (“The War Doesn’t End”)—melt away and meld in the third section of “Homage.” Anderson spends most of this section in conversation with Li Po, another poet, about how his life’s two previous phases have affected him. He reflects on his aging (“Homage to Li Po”) and how that affects his ultimately nihilistic outlook on life (“Anonymous Civil Servant, T’ang Dynasty”). However, in “Two Poets Drinking,” Anderson realizes that this line of thinking is destructive and that being a part of a relationship is vital to survival:
“He keeps me from stepping off the cliff,
I catch him when he falls.
And fall he will, as will I” (79).
The speaker’s journey throughout this section is to destroy and rebuild who he was in this life, revealing the ways he is trying to be a better person. The conversational form of the third section serves as a paradigm shift in the collection’s overall tone and theme. Indeed it is the bridge of the collection’s lyrical structure.
Anderson ends his collection with “Mythologies,” a contemporary reflection of the themes of Greek mythology and Biblical stories with the themes and settings discussed earlier in the book. Some of his subjects are Odysseus (“Cyclops”) and Adam. In “Survivor,” he combines the legend of Circe with the setting of a strip club:
“I saw my men in that topless bar
that Circe ran, throwing their
combat pay up on the stage,
her tucking the bills in her g-string” (96).
He circles back to the themes presented in “Love in Plague Time” under the guise of using myths and stories to reexamine the themes of alienation. The section and the collection ends with “Age is Asking Me to Give Up Love.” Much like the cyclical nature of myth, Anderson says,
“Might be easier if love gave me up.
It won’t, nor has it sublimated
into something holy” (102).
Anderson’s text is striking due to its streamlined lyricism and juxtaposition of the natural and artificial. This is well-exemplified in the line “I was shocked, thought in our madness you’d bitten my lip. But it was only blueberries” (82).
Undress, She Said will stand out to readers through its varied reflection of the male poet within the last century.