Anne Caston is a former nurse, a writer, and an educator whose work has been published extensively in literary and medical journals here and abroad. She earned a B.A. in Language and Literature from St. Mary's College of Maryland in 1993 and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Warren Wilson College in 1995. She served as the Jay C. and Ruth Halls Fellow in Poetry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and as the Jenny McKean Moore Fellow in Poetry at The George Washington University.
Anne has taught for The University of Alaska since 1999 and is currently a core faculty member in the M.F.A. Program in Creative Writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage.
She is currently working on a fourth collection of poems, Sea Change, and a memoir, Deep Dixie: A Southerner's Take on Life, Love, Friendship, Romance, Faith, and Coming-of-Age Among Southern Baptists.
Flying Out With the Wounded, 1997, New York University Press
Judah's Lion, 2009, Toad Hall Press –second edition
Prodigal, 2014, Aldrich Press
Interview: "The Poet and the Poem," Grace Cavalieri, from the Library of Congress (2009)
Videotape: "The Writing Life"--Anne Caston is interviewed by Michael Collier (1999)
Early on in my training as a nurse, I was assigned to dissect a human cadaver with my lab partner, a young man studying to be a surgeon. After he and I had taken that cadaver down to its smallest identifiable parts, after we had bagged the parts and labeled them, after we had examined the deepest parts of that man's anatomy, it occurred to me that some of what we had found there would confirm the coroner's report: that he was a Caucasian male in his mid-thirties, that he had suffered fatal trauma in a one-car accident and had been pronounced DOA at the site, and that suicide could not be ruled out since he was traveling at a high speed and had not braked before his fatal collision with the tree.
But during our dissection we had discovered something else, something not mentioned in the police coroner's account of the man's death: in the man's brain –among the small bundled arteries known as the antereo-lateral ganglionic branches –the largest vessel had developed an aneurysm which had ruptured, pre-mortem, and had bled out into the surrounding tissues of the brain, including the area near Broca's, around the optic thalamus. In layman's terms, the man had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke which had, in turn, blinded him. It was this temporary blindness which had –more likely thansuicide–caused the accident and the resulting trauma which had brought him to our table.
My lab partner and I sifted, for hours that winter day, a stranger's anatomical structures and had, in doing so, confronted in the final moments of that man's life. We imagined his last struggles and, perhaps, his terror. We had gone into that search open-minded, examining and considering carefully what could be seen, what could be known, and we had, in the process of thatlooking, acquired a knowledge: a knowledge which could not now save that man, but one which did bring to us –and to his widow –the circumstances which had contributed to his death and how he'd come to die, not willfully, alone on that road.
My students sometimes ask me if I believe poetry can save the world. I admit, I don't think poetry can "save" anything. What I do believe, however, is that it can slow us down, make us pause, that it can send us –each of us, alone, individually –back into our deepest selves in some search of who and what we are, back into the desires and successes and failings of our lives and our world in such a way that we might access some means by which we can (as Aristotle and others have put it) "know" ourselves. And while that might not "save" us, it might yet redeem or salvage something human and humane in us.
Webster's defines art as "a nonscientific way of knowing, especially in the humanities."
What I do, in the classroom and in thesis work, one-on-one with those who want to write, is to provide a hospitable environment and an opportunity for student writers to expand their abilities in the science (or craft) of writing, and to provide for students in the art an on-going nurturing of the art of writing, its very human, very fallible way ofknowing. While three years may seem like sufficient time in which to develop these skills, it is hardly sufficient time for all that a student has learned to yet manifest itself. So I think of what I do here as a beginning and to keep doing that whole-heartedly has required that I develop a more long-range vision, something beyond a semester, or two semesters, or six semesters. I am always keenly aware that, while I may be equipping a writer with the tools for the journey, it is life and experience and loss and love and humility and curiosity which are the most profound teachers.
Writing poetry is good and difficult work and I am passionate about that work and about the necessity of poetry. Educating writers is also good and difficult work and I am passionate about that work and believe in the necessity of that too.
Anne's "Must Read" list:
″Anna Karenina" by Leo Tolstoy
″For the Time Being" by Annie Dillard
″The Boys of My Youth" by Jo Anne Beard
″The Man Who Loved Children" by Christina Stead
″East of Eden" by John Steinbeck
″My Alexandria" by Mark Doty
″Germinal" by Emile Zola
″The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood
″All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque
″A Separate Peace" by John Knowles
″A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings" &"The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World" by Gabriel Garcia-Marquez
″A Good Man Is Hard To Find" by Flannery O'Conner