The Story of The Dogs Pond – and Wilfred Owen
The play, and the story of the play starts with Wilfred Owen.
I think I first read his poem, “Anthem for A Doomed Youth”, while at NYU and it struck me with its honest brutal reality. I read up on Owen and learned he had been a rather bad poet for much of his youth, trying to follow in the pastoral footsteps of Wordsworth and Longfellow, traipsing about fields and glens, admiring the birds and wind and longing for love. Then he went to war in France, served on the front lines and came home with shell shock. It was during his stay at a sanatorium he began to write the poetry he would, very quickly, become famous for.
Europe was losing a generation of young men and the world would be forever changed by the engines and gas and bombs of destruction. Owen was one of the first to move away from the trumpets and sound bites, to strip away the glorification of gore and bring his readers down into the muck and mud and piss of it all. After publication, he began to associate with a very colorful crowd of artistic elite, to drink and dance and love (he was gay, by the way). But then, for reasons I’m not clear on, Captain, Wilfred Owen, went back to the front. He was killed leading his men across a bridge one week after the armistice had been signed. News traveled slow in those days.
Rereading Owen as I began to develop the play, I noticed a lack of condemnation on his part for the forces that sent him (and the millions of others) into the trenches. He doesn’t preach peace, he simply brings to the reader the cost of war. This is the central aim of The Dogs Pond. I want to convey the personal cost of trauma, the toll it takes on family and neighbors without getting mired in the politics. I want to show the characters as I met them, as people, as men sitting around a camp fire not as symbols.
I met some of these men during my times as an adjunct instructor at our various local colleges and universities. They were in my Comp classes or Creative Writing or Intro to Literature courses. Their stories would come out bit by bit, sometimes in little asides and sometimes in lengthy prose. One student wrote a story about a checkpoint in Iraq. He was on duty with his fellow soldiers when a car came racing towards them. They fired warning shots and yelled over the loudspeaker for the driver to halt. He didn’t and they opened fire. Soon they would discover that the driver was trying to get his wife to the base hospital as she was in the process of giving birth. There were other stories, funny ones and every day ones. But it wasn’t just the vets that informed this play. I read a lot of stories and had a lot of conversations in those years. About abusive fathers, suicides, rapes and tragedies. But also walks in the woods, fun times up ta camp, sunsets and cranberry islands. It’s all part of the mosaic and I’m trying to put it all in the play.