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

Undress, She Said by Doug Anderson Cover

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.



Two Poems

Halloween: Ends

Michael Myers at the 711 filling up his SUV.
Michael Myers at Home Depot buying fancy drill bits he doesn’t really need.
Michael Myers sitting in the back of the room at the PTA meeting, scrolling through Tinder.
Michael Myers doing taxes.
Michael Myers scrolling through Facebook in the movie theater.
Michael Myers at couple’s counseling.
Michael Myers letting the dog out one night and telling the kids it ran away.
Michael Myers killing all the sex workers in Grand Theft Auto.
Michael Myers sitting in the back pew at church, scrolling through Tinder.
Michael Myers mowing the lawn on a beautiful Sunday afternoon.
Michael Myers wearing an apron that says I Rub My Own Meat.
Michael Myers getting drunk at his Superbowl party.
Michael Myers explaining the differences between a bratwurst and a sausage to a woman looking at her phone.
Michael Myers renting Saw IV again on Amazon Prime.
Michael Myers taking his mask off to have sex but leaving his socks on.
Michael Myers toweling off in the locker room.
Michael Myers rubbing against people on the train.
Michael Myers at the hotel bar explaining the difference between bourbon and whisky to a woman looking at her phone.
Michael Myers calling up toiletries and answering the door in his bathrobe each time.
Michael Myers ordering his burger well-done.
Michael Myers sending his food back twice.
Michael Myers not tipping.


Another autumn

                        after Mikey Swanberg


walking the mile
to work,


freezing in the morning,
sweating on the way back,


each step a stitch
quilting the heavy blanket


of our unhappiness.
Nothing has happened,


and still—


I imagined my lover

might show up


in my office
before I left,


shut the door
and we would fuck


quietly on the desk


to the rhythm

of the copy machine.


In another version,
he’d walk out to me


halfway along the mile,

stitching his own path,


and say something
he was never going to say,


that he had changed, and I
had changed, but


all for the better,
and we were stronger for it,


as though love
were a sourdough,


dying then restarting,
grown through being given away.


How long did I believe that time
was the most costly thing.


What a hard bargain
to find it is the only thing.




Correlation is not causation, but few things correlate more to a mood than rain.


Do people still come down with “a case of the vapors”?


What is weather if not causality in a landscape?


When it rains it pours. How does the Morton Salt Girl maintain her kicky attitude, happy under that umbrella and never bored with life?


Half the idiots in charge of this country don’t even know enough to come in out of the rain.


The Great Plains are basically a desert and thus Nebraska is a fairly dry state. In Lincoln, my Grandpa Boo was obsessed with his rain gauge, and therefore I, too, obsessed became.


Raining cats and dogs may come from the Greek cata doxa, “contrary to experience or belief.” I can’t believe how hard it’s raining!


Swipe a fingertip heart in the misty windowpane.


I hate to be the one to say it, but your parade’s going to get rained on.


Never have I ever been so depressed as when I lived for one year in the Pacific Northwest. It literally always rains and people metaphorically are always taking rainchecks. The Seattle No, I later learned it was termed, aka the Seattle Freeze.


A rain of arrows. Soot and ash raining down. What is life but a rain of blows?


This is the third year in a row that the rains have failed.


A peer-reviewed study found that of all 50 states, Washington ranked 48th for the trait of extraversion.


Gentle rain on the roof is as pleasing as alliteration, day or night, right as rain.


Does rain like being the external correlative of sorrow? Of pain? That feeling of tears going into your ears when you’re lying on your back and crying.


When you listen to “Famous Blue Raincoat,” what shade of blue do you see?


At this point it’d take a meteor shower to get the earth really clean.


Droplets stitch the day with gray silken threads. Come rain or shine, the hits just keep coming.



Two Poems

Witness Statement

And, behold, in the year
of unencumbered plague


those who trafficked in wickedness
did so on palatial golf courses.


An orphan cried for succor
and received spit.


Nothing of this was new
or profound, only more naked.


And, lo, I fed my son a breakfast
bar on a dying planet.


And on a dying planet
the wicked watered


my son’s playground with poisons.
They hallowed his oceans with lead.


Tell me what should I have done
but bathe bread in peanut butter


mince Flintstones in a cup of cola.
And, lo, the wicked thought only


of my boy as a horsetail dreams
of flies. His chest rose and fell


as we both tacked the garbage
truck rumbling its track.


In this was no sin.
In this was only another


form of hunger: the truckness
of the truck begetting wonder


begetting want. Oh, felt my boy
with every rattling atom.


And the wicked kenneled
a brown boy so like my son.


I said, I am sickened.
I said, I will maim you


with my claws before you
take their boy, my boy whose laugh


turns this truck ripe with refuse
to some radiant blessing.


Anubis at the DMV

Let me be blunt:

            fate is no whim.


It is the voice of

            a thousand bureaucrats intoning

                        now serving 554.


If diligence is a knife

            you are our bread.


if service is a repeating decimal

            a herd of digits flashed to life

                        you’re dead last.


                        The sarcophagal cero.


Each attendant is a monolith

                        in a desert you wander

                                    an hour, a lifetime.


Who can know?

            The intervals grow



Think of a cat

            toying mindlessly with a string

                        an entire day




Past the grave

            vice or virtue is simply

                        the dust we brush off.


Let it accumulate.

            Let the carpet fiber

                        crack beneath your feet


Now you want to know

            how much longer

                        a day, a year, a league.


Like all dictators

            I simply push the beads

                        across, then back.


Who am I

            to enumerate

                        your wait time?


Who to tell you

            how to spend your death?



Did You Miss Your Saturn Return

There is a spectrum of brightness. You might not have realized
that gleam is stronger than glimmer. The latter suggests movement,
like when sunlight hits an unstill surface and we call it dancing.
Similarly, I know water isn’t blue, it just reflects the colors
around it. And I know it isn’t solid—it just invites being touched.
Yes, I’m talking about hope again, and you are in your bed all day.
I’m googling the concept of a Saturn return because, thematically,
I like the idea of reaching an age where it’s acceptable to change
my mind. You don’t believe in astrology. I’m not sure you believe
in anything, and I worry you missed the chance to see it all fresh.
I’m worried it’s easier to try to fix your problems instead
of sitting and feeling mine. I’m not a good swimmer because
I struggle to breathe through my panic. I struggle to let my chest
loosen when I walk down the street. My chest, surely it was tight
any time you touched me and we pretended water was solid, blue.




Accidental Selfie in the Photo of a Window Quote

West Hollywood, 2019

Who should I look to be when AIDS took a generation of leaders & artists & mentors & thinkers & lovers from me…


But the photo is a ghost: reflected boy who takes the picture, boy becoming thread. Boy sick again, undiagnosed, to whom these words will ring divine. Paint to pane, this sigil for departed, lives held in the glare against this glass. The photo is a ghost: boy not a boy but body double with rejection. Somehow, living then; a wasting king left wanting for long curls and smoother cheeks. The blue dress that will save boy still years off. Boy then is short hair and a loose black tee, scruffed face behind the camera. Above, branches off the sidewalk trees part and drop down midday light. Sun-skinned here, boy gospels with a generation. And that night, perched upon a tub’s ledge soaking feet and tonguing cankers, legions call again. Will wash boy’s wounds with sweetened salves, will offer up salvation through new life. Today that boy is gone but isn’t to be mourned. The sun still knows this spirit, how bright to light her walk below the trees.


*This poem appears in The Florida Review 46.2, Winter 2022.


Christmas Eve

A small tree leans against a wall. The windows, frozen over

lakes. There is no sky. Day and night.


Somewhere, grief is a place

no one is dying from. Heavy organ music. A cathedral, hymning the half-dark.


If you know anything, it is that a child dies at least once

in childhood.


You remember snow. Its quiet. How no one came.


How time can make small that which is no longer small.


Still. Imagine it is just another night. A cocktail and a cigarette in hand. A friend

saying, take care, before putting on a coat and getting in a cab. The snow, flitting

under streetlights. The moon laid across the lake by the park.


Imagine a life that you wanted to be yours. How you asked

to deserve it. Blue oars. A boat on a lake clear as harm.


Imagine some forever no one has named

heaven. Where loneliness is a mask

one is forgiven when it is taken off.


The last thing said or not said. Its sudden importance.


And all is blue. Day and night.

And all is blue. Day and night.




Review: Questions from Outer Space by Diane Thiel

Ren Hen Press, 2022
Paperback, $16.95, 119 pages.



Diane Thiel’s third collection of poetry, Questions from Outer Space, comes after an interlude during which the poet devoted her energies to a travel memoir (The White Horse) and the translation of contemporary Greek fiction. Her first two collections (Echolocations and Resistance Fantasies) garnered acclaim, including the Nicholas Roerich Award, for their intelligence, wit, wordplay, and attention to form. These earlier poems explored family history and contemplated contemporary manifestations of mythic archetypes. Her latest volume skillfully deploys many of the same aesthetic characteristics that distinguished her first collections, while the new poems range widely from past to present to future, from house and home to international, interplanetary, and even interdimensional settings. It is a volume full of vivid, imaginative poems, a good many beginning as thought experiments that call to mind Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics.


The title of the volume suggests that the act of questioning will be both a central motif and the principal modus operandi of the poems that follow. And, indeed, a number of poems instantiate this propensity for questioning, e.g., “Questions of Time and Direction,” “Questions from Four Dimensions,” and “Navigating the Questions.” The intellectual bent of the collection is summarized in “Listening in Deep Space”: “looking for answers / telling stories about ourselves, / searching for connection.” In one way or another, the poems in Questions all pursue this heuristic. For Thiel, “the simplest question” is capable of “opening the world again.”


Many of the poems recognize and ponder the complications that science and technology introduce into our lives, especially the consequences of relying too greatly on gadgetry. “Tritina in the Time of the Machine,” for example, addresses the implications of intrusive technologies at a time when “in nearly every pocket,” there’s “a small methodical machine” always “grinding on.” Another poem, “Remotely,” wittily mulls the consequences of living in the remote and virtual modes forced on us by pandemic realities. Whether it’s a remote control, internet access, Zoom video conferences, or even the electric typewriters of yore, in poem after poem the poet mulls the benefits and drawbacks of incorporating new technology into our lives.


Thiel’s wry and sometimes whimsical way of looking at the world (a trait readily apparent in her previous volumes) is woven throughout these poems, often making light of, or even mocking, the slippery and careless use of language in social and corporate settings (“KwickAssess”). Other poems play with familiar expressions (“Sleeping Dogs,” “Baby Out with the Bathwater,” “Under the Rug”) and in so doing discover new angles on old clichés.


While Thiel’s outlook is sometimes droll, she is just as often attuned to darker concerns. The poet repeatedly worries over “a tear in the continuum.” Some poems, for example, evince a plangent concern for environmental degradation (e.g., “Navigating the Questions”), a concern that is carried forward from her earlier volumes (such as the powerful poem, “Punta Perlas,” in Resistance Fantasies). An underlying theme of these poems is “the way our actions decide / who or what is now / expendable.”


A central conceit in the book, running through several poems, involves the first-person observation of life on Earth from the standpoint of sentient, empirical beings located elsewhere in the cosmos. In the view of these distant observers, humans “generally / complicate things” and are “highly irrational.” The poem “Field Notes from the Biolayer” uses the distant observer conceit to tie together the volume’s key themes of technology, environment, and connectivity. Thiel’s extraterrestrial observers—whose view surely coincides with her own—note that as humans “are forced / to rely on the virtual world, some begin to realize / what they had been missing” and are now “recognizing the way their world is connected / within and also beyond—the rivers, the oceans, the air— / the lovely layer that makes their existence possible.”


As has been the case throughout her career, in these poems Thiel evinces a meticulous concern for the craft of poetry. Most notably, the poems are attuned to sonic patterns and echoes, or what Dana Gioia has referred to as the “intuitive music” of her poetry. She employs rhyme—full, slant, and internal—to good effect. There is also a good deal of assonance and consonance at work, as in this passage from “Time Won’t Do It”:


We expect too much of time,
give it mythical powers,
believe a certain set of hours,
days or years will be the salve
to solve it all. We treat it
like an oracle, believing
time will tell, expecting
time to heal because
our sayings say it will.


While Thiel is not a strict formalist, she pays close attention to form, with many of the poems taking one or another of the traditional forms, including a sestina, a pantoum, a villanelle, a tritina, along with several sonnet or sonnet-like poems, haiku, and tanka. When not employing traditional forms, Thiel devises nonce forms and often resorts to repeated stanzaic patterns. Several of the poems—e.g., “Sleeping Dogs” and “In the Mirror”—have a concrete quality. In her use of forms and sonic patterns, Thiel has much in common with her coeval, A. E. Stallings (the two poets share a connection to Greece as well, as both poets are married to Greeks and have spent significant time in Greece).


Thiel’s past work has shown her to be a smart, well-read poet, with a keen awareness of the poetic tradition. The range of references in this volume reveals some of her varied influences, both aesthetic and thematic. There are echoes of or direct allusions to numerous poets, including W. C. Williams, Richard Wilbur, William Stafford, Robert Hayden, Elizabeth Bishop, D. H. Lawrence, Auden, Keats, and Swedish-language poet Edith Södergran. All in all, it is a collection rich with references to literature, science, music, and art.


In “looking for answers, telling stories…and searching for connection,” these poems succeed in “opening the world again.”


Blues for King Kong

the soul tends to hide deep beneath the blues • & pain has chosen to call blues beautiful • & pain could not have seen things differently • when someone owns a thing we call it their possession • & yet what do we call it when some sinister spirit has entered them?  • of curtains that are mostly drawn • of a blues felt more intimately with the eyes closed • slow song for a masochist • a gentle tapping of feet •  bassist under collagen of bones • bassist of a chest-deep beating  • & some no longer look their friends in the eyes • others have not noticed themselves becoming islands • sunlight as a clarity reflected by water • moonlight as uncertainty reflected by water • drown under sounds of a profound saxophone sorrow • soak in softening passages of pain moving through the body • a falsetto waters the seeds of anguish  • protruding from the mouth • the roots of a soul reaching for light


Cool Side of the Pillow

Have you ever heard the sound of a screen door

closing old-timer slow?—Inching madness to the edge

of its seat?— Think of shoes on the wrong feet.

And how fingernails scratch the chalkboard

to test your impulses.  When the dog shits

in the house, and the house isn’t yours.

Lost keys. Bad haircut. Bad ink. Bad poem.

Broken tooth. Ulcer. Speeding ticket.

Bad job. Foreclosure. Your ovaries tied.

Boyfriend sexting someone else.

Your kid hates you. Your dying friend has

no insurance policy. You’re addicted to soap.

Boss screaming down your throat.

You burnt the turkey. Is it worth mentioning,

that moss has no roots?— We know something

has been tampered with, when the seal

is broken.  Only one thing to do, don’t surrender,

turn over your armor, dream a little dream.