Hero of the Week: Doug Anderson

Ah, Facebook, that entity we love to hate. I’m more in the hate to love it category, maybe. Facebook is the home of my writing community. It’s where I’ve “met” and gotten to know writers and horse people across the country and in several other countries. It’s especially fun when I get to know writers who also love horses. It’s a good combination, I think.

Doug Anderson is one of the most thoughtful people I’ve encountered through Facebook. I’ve read his posts about the state of the humanities, trigger warnings, cultural appropriation, culture, teaching, aging, love, memories of love, the need for love, the Vietnam War, and horses. His opinions are considered, not knee-jerk. And if he throws something out there as a question, you can be assured he’s already given it quite a bit of thought. Clearly I admire him.

He is also an award-winning poet. National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Pushcart Prize, Eric Mathieu King Fund of the Academy of American Poets – you know, big deal awards.

He was nice enough to answer some questions I had for him after reading his most recent poetry collection, “Horse Medicine.” I’m tempted to post these one question at a time because the answers are weighty. However, Doug sent me answers to my questions weeks ago and it’s about damn time I post them. No more delays! The world marches on, there’s never a “perfect” time.

Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing writers today?

A: Students are not being trained to read nuanced language in high school; they mostly get short non-fiction pieces. This is part of the teaching-to-the-test strategy. It has done incredible damage. Students arrive at college way behind and resent having to read texts that have any kind of difficulty, or lead them toward the discovery of their own imaginations. When I was an undergraduate I remember students carrying poetry books because poetry was a part of their world—even students in non-English majors. That’s all gone now and the reading of imaginative literature is now the province of an elite class. It is demonstrable that the reading of imaginative literature builds empathy. I’m resigning myself to the idea that I’m speaking to a very small tribe when I write.

Q: The pull of Vietnam for veterans of the Vietnam War seems to me to be different than, say, Afghanistan. What is it that brings the soldiers etc. back, and what do they carry home with them after they’ve returned during a time of peace?

A: Vietnam is an undigested mass on the country’s soul. Many vets ceased believing in the war, even when they were fighting it. There is a desire held by many of us to make friends with the country we devastated, make friends with our former enemies. I’ve been back twice since the war, and am a member and teaching affiliate of the Joiner Center for the Study of War and Its Social Consequences. We’ve made friends with many former soldiers who’ve become writers. This war will not go away until the country reckons with it. Or until all who fought in it are dead, and then it will enter a whitewashed history. BTW Afghanistan is not all that different than VN. It is a war of choice begun for corrupt reasons and going nowhere after over fifteen years. Afghanistan vets are beginning to ask questions.

Q: How has your poetry changed over the years?

A: When I began to write poetry about the war in the eighties I was fortunate to have Jack Gilbert as a mentor. The poems came fast and hard and I was able to shape them into a chapbook, and then a full-length book. I can say I really learned how to write poetry during that time. Poetry seemed to be the perfect medium for memory. Much of war is waiting, and then a sudden violent event. The brevity of poetry is right for that.

Q: What has horse medicine done for you?

A: For a few years I was associated with a horse rescue farm with 32 draft horses. I grew to love those horses. I did photography and publicity for the farm and hung out with the horses in the paddock. A horse is not a pet and the relationship one has with it is much more complex, involves changes to one’s nervous system and emotions. It is demonstrable that these relationships can be healing. The poems that came from this are celebratory.

(Photo swiped from Doug’s Facebook page.)

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