by Tony Aarts
Reading poems by Nate Pritts is a verified experience in what it means to see the poet in terms of a voice, image(ry), life, and the many landscapes, teetering or still, that are covered. Not to break in tangent, but it seems no mistake that Pritts has a fixation on the sun in this particular collection. The voice in these poems is often ecstatic, whether it be in duress or appreciation, and this continues to sound back to some element of a burning things down to their bare essentials.
Even the epigraph recalls the primitive self:
“But for me the earth is new to-day, and the sun is raining light.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson. Journal: November 28th, 1837.
This fixation with light, heat, propulsion all work together in Big Bright Sun to give the reader poems that revel in “some so recently orange sky” while admitting that these same moments are a passing. This is nothing new as a theme in poetry, but Pritts approaches it with regard and disregard at the same time. The pull between the two is a delicate crux.
Moving away from the central pulse of the collection, Pritts does the work of carving a place for himself through varying forms, tones, and even the diction itself. The poems adopt antiquated spellings and syntax that mirror that juxtapose the world he finds himself in.
[...] to fall & shatter
upon mine big soft head, birds & stars sprouting from the soil
like ideas, scattered & thought better of; no threats,
no menacings, no inconveniences major or minor
dost me befall & so surely this must be the best
of all possible worlds.
(from “Happy Day”)
He switches throughout the collection, even to moments that call up O'Hara and Berrigan:
So you start out saying one thing
& end up saying something else & anyway
it's February; we should pretend it's cold.
It might be that some would say Pritts is inhabiting the bodies of those before him, but it's not the case. He reels as a composite that has crash-landed and cannot remark enough to save himself. Even the various forms change masks to throw new faces into the circle. “All My Poems...” run throughout the collection as Pritts gives his poems personalities, habits, faults, and a place to sit. These poems are themselves being that are lost and overcome, or they're simply waiting. Many poets and instructors alike have likened a poem to an instant, the bell rings, and then there is the sound after. What struck me was how Pritts turns this on end as the poem waits for a ring itself. There is an instant, and the instant is also waiting for an instant. Humor runs throughout the series, but they often turn on themselves as they become unruly, forgotten, misunderstood, or misanthropic. Being a proponent for the saying, “There is nothing more serious than a joke.” it's a welcome sight to see that Big Bright Sun sees how quickly mirth is followed by consequence.
As the collection moves forward, Pritts runs through series, couplets, the personal, the fragmented lyric, journal-like estuary, and back to the ecstatic. It might be that this constant volley strains itself at times. Some of the sectioned poems break so from the energy and ember of those surrounding them that it can be jarring for the reader. As well, the confessional monologues sometimes move away from a foreground or background, losing their footing in image or anchor for the reader to fix the voice to. One example is “Phase Study” in which the couplets rifle through a sort of analysis of a self that is akin to a black hole or a natural event. While the idea behind the language is loaded and pulling, the actual terrain of the poem is left somewhat in space. Being an individual that loves both feet on and completely off the ground, reading and re-reading these poems creates a different reaction each time.
Still, what was the greatest impact for myself in reading Big Bright Sun was the confession that one can love the world and know that it is a terribly frightening place, too. There are cracks and shortfalls, and we're always dotted somewhere in between, hoping we can at least recognize ourselves. Pritts has an unreal ability to tighten this experience into lines worth writing in the grass, on bus windows, across the back of someone's head, and anywhere else the authorities won't notice. (On second thought, they can live with it. They should.) Lines like, “The waves form / & some fights are small. It can be assumed / that people desire & then suddenly disappear.” (from [this is true mainly because I was inspired by the ordinary people]) or, “I've let myself / walk away from my myself & I'm wandering / lost & empty everywhere I am & I / have entered a cloud & am sore afraid.” (from “Three Birds”) and, “I was nervous because / I was a symbol for something.” (from [thank you for your time]).
The poem “So Many Happiness” is one that admits that a life is tied to its joy and pain at the same point. What starts as a lament of the poet opens on its surroundings.
many chairs in a room
but not how many happinesses
& that is the heartbreak of humanity
just like flight is the hearbreak of birds
which people think of as their stunning achievement.
Birds wonder how talk can make us sad.
Grass wonders if it is really the journeywork
of the starts & clouds wonder why
jazz music hurts it so. Of the last three things
you said to me, the jazz music you said hurt me
the most. Not that it was sad
or mean, but that it made sense & that it was
one note played & then another note played
& they weren't the same note but it still sounded good.
Nate Pritts has written a collection that can't have enough because, as common a thought as it is, there is something passing by, something still missing. One could do much worse than hold fast, and if nothing else, follow it without apology. These poems do just that.