Keep Your Head Down: A Memoir

Keep Your Head Down: A Memoir

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by Doug Anderson

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An award-winning poet highlights the vibrant history of his generation in a farewell to Vietnam, the chaotic sixties, and their long aftermath.


An award-winning poet highlights the vibrant history of his generation in a farewell to Vietnam, the chaotic sixties, and their long aftermath.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Anderson (The Moon Reflected Fire) has led an amazing life-before, during and after his 1967-1968 tour of duty as a navy corpsman with the 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. He has been a jazz drummer, a playwright, an actor, an alcoholic and son of an alcoholic, a college dropout, a college instructor, a drug abuser, a PTSD sufferer and a poet. In his first book of nonfiction, Anderson tells his story in inviting, poetic prose. He begins with his dysfunctional childhood in Memphis, then offers an evocative depiction of his service in Vietnam, which included a firefight on his first day in the field and more than his share of closely observed horror. He shows the hell of war as he went through it. Only in recent years did Anderson stop drinking, find meaningful work as a poet and teacher, marry and make a life-changing trip back to Vietnam in 2000. Yet what Anderson dubs "Snakebrain" (the demons inside him) remains a part of him. His beautifully told story is one of redemption, but also one without a happy ending. (July)

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Kirkus Reviews
Middling memoir of the bad old days of booze, acid and shrapnel. Call me Snakebrain. So poet Anderson (Creative Writing/Univ. of Connecticut Greater Hartford) dubs the "second self that lies dormant until he's needed" that somehow hitched a ride on his psyche while serving in Vietnam. He arrived there in 1967 and served as a Marine medic in combat "against the tough and committed Communist Vietcong and NVA." Before the war, he writes, he did all the usual things of the early '60s-pondering inequality and injustice, signing up for college, flunking ROTC, hanging out with young radicals in coffeehouses and listening to folk singers. During the war, he dodged mortar shells and bullets, smoked dope and listened to Hendrix-the stuff, in other words, of countless memoirs and nearly every Vietnam movie ever filmed. Anderson writes competently if formulaically-"I don't know anything either, apart from the masks I use to cover my fear"-but there's not a surprising moment at any turn in the narrative. Even the closing, when he returns with other writer veterans to workshop with the erstwhile enemy, is predictable down to the last note ("So much of my life is a blur. The war years are veiled in fear and confusion"). The author's rigorously honest account of his postwar return to college life and the development of various addictions as manifestations of trauma-"Pot loosens the flak jacket and I float where I don't want to"-will be of use to students of psychology, counselors and other mental-health professionals. Those readers have their hands full treating veterans of latter-day conflicts, but Snakebrain makes for an oddly fascinating subject. Most readers will want to turn to more deeply feltbooks about the era, including Philip Caputo's A Rumor of War (1977), Jonathan Shay's Achilles in Vietnam (1994) and Peter Coyote's Sleeping Where I Fall (1998).

Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.40(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.10(d)

Meet the Author

Doug Anderson, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, teaches at the University of Connecticut Greater Hartford Campus and lives in Hartford.

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Keep Your Head Down: A Memoir 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
SuzanneMcConnell More than 1 year ago
I can't put this memoir down. It will speak to anyone who's interested in the trajectory from self-bewilderment to actualization. It will especially speak to vets, baby-boomers, alcoholics, anyone in the arts. The section on Vietnam competes with the best literature about it: puts you there, makes you understand the fear and disorientation. Anderson captures the sixties and seventies through his own odyssey. A terrific mix of the interior and exterior, his journey is hard won. It makes me want to keep on keeping on. A poet and actor, Anderson applies those talents as a writer. His ear for the right word, and his concision and sense of dramatic timing are superb.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
In this memoir, one finds a prose narrative that continues on with the themes found in his two extraordinary volumes of poetry, The Moon Reflected Fire and Blues for Unemployed Secret Police. Whether depicting the insanity of the Viet Nam war or the complexities of early adolescence, whether revisiting a hippie bash in Tucson or a pack of unslept marine corp officers in Que Son valley, whether immersed in the roiling connection between sex and love or lack thereof, Anderson's eye for the truth is equally tender and unsparing. This prose is unmarked with sentimentality yet charged with a heart whose course we are privileged to follow as it winds from childhood into early manhood as an artist and a veteran of war.