Sunday, May 29, 2011

from The Joe Milford Poetry Show

90 minute interview & reading segment on The Joe Milford Poetry Show, 5/28/2011, focusing on Big Bright Sun & new work from Sweet Nothing & beyond.

from Coldfront

by Patrick Dunagan

by Matt Hart / by Nate Pritts
H_ngm_n Bks 2010 / BlazeVOX Books 2010

“two hummingbirds singing”

Conjecture, simple statement and sense perception yield sparkling poetics in the latest collections by poets / editors / publishers / pals Matt Hart and Nate Pritts. Each author is extremely active in poetry world business affairs: Hart edits and publishes the journal Forklift, Ohio and press Forklift Ink, and Pritts is behind H_ngm_n and H_ngm_n BKS. The energy they bring to poetry is tremendous and truly generative in the best sense – when you come across a project that either or both has a hand in, you’re fired up with mad desire to respond. Their latest books are no exception.

In their own ways – Hart with mania, Pritts with hope – the poets can be glowy: “Today is the brightest day today / could possibly be!” ( Pritts, “Bright Day”). But they are always close to the matter-of-fact detail, presenting a situation at hand with intimate and mildly absurd analysis: “and your absence is company and a company” (Hart, “You Are Mist”). What they share is a dedication to approaching poetry as an occasion of serious fun. Even when edging into darkness, Hart’s response to the world is joyous:

It’s true that two hummingbirds singing
in exactly the same pitch
can shatter the blackest of mountains.
But it’s also true that the missiles
in those mountains can shatter
a hummingbird to pieces of hummingbird.
The end. But this curled mess of black
yarn, this series of concrete barrier
entanglements, means that we have to be ready
for no matter what, for whatever…

(“Electron Face”)

Do hummingbirds even sing? It does not seem to matter; the poet intuits a sound, or confluence of sound, and anyway “the missiles / in those mountains” most certainly “can shatter” hummingbirds along with all the rest of us anyway. The thought of doom immediately enters and distracts. Doom is reliable; one can have faith in doom. And as he says at the close of the same poem,

The reason it’s good to have faith
is the reason for everything good.

The abiding principle here is to get into the swing of language and immediate association, and then to allow the poem to be carried away. The darker it gets, the more that “play” is an affair meant to be harnessed. In the following example from Pritts, each line connects thought to emotion to thought as the reader is drawn in to an unsettled monologue:

Sometimes I catch myself not really listening

when other people talk & I get concerned
that I’m not expressing the proper emotion

so I just keep thinking that I want them
to shut up quick & stop asking me to care.

Earlier today I saw one bird & I thought
he looked like a sad bird so I said to myself,

“Hey, Pritts, you are one sad bird,” but now
looking back, I can see how someone else

would have thought that bird looked pretty happy,
ecstatic even, & with all those feathers

why not?

(“Sad Tree”)

These aren’t glum poems; they are landscapes of the tragic comedy of everyday living. Where Pritts seeks relief in philosophical inquiry, Hart immerses himself in the present. He displays a dazzling brilliance for the occasional and transitional. He tells us he’s

…snoozing-in 3 times, getting up finally at 6;

kissing good morning to Melanie and the cold air,
the coffee, computer, the baby and dog; make coffee…

By doing so, he’s introducing the daily routine upon which the poems depend, times of the day when

the cold air feels terrific, my ears filled with traffic.
I feel like I’m still dreaming, each step automatic, my body

self-propelled. And on the streets with no lights
without my glasses, I can’t see a thing. So Daisy and I

simply rocket, bolt and breathe, benevolent burn,
and only the trees with their low-hanging branches,

which scrape against my face every thirty or forty
seconds, break me out of my trance and remind me

of me, and also where we are – Cincinatti, November!

(“Blackbox Cockpit Voice Recorder”)

Hart stays rooted in daily habits and in a very specific place, Cincinatti. He has no knowledge of what’s presently to arrive, but commits himself to nailing down hard truths against the surrounding darkness. Both Pritts and Hart understand and perhaps thrive on the treacherous detours a poet is likely encounter with this kind of writing: turning a corner of a thought on a line and finding that the corner corners them. Pritts

…can look up & see that same night sky,

that it will always be empty black or riddled
with starlight but, whatever it is, it will be,
always, & I’m convinced that being convinced

is a good way to handle all this doubt,
just like I am convinced I could do almost anything
& still be me in the morning.

(“That Me”)

But the only thing that keeps him from falling up into the “empty black” is the conviction that he is at least as constant as the sky. The work they excel at requires they remain outside the society that benefits from their work, but remain deeply engaged in the daily functions afloat on its surface. Discomfort becomes endemic, an inescapable side effect of getting the job done. What keeps the work going is the satisfaction that comes now and then from catching a glimpse beyond the usual charade. Here is Pritts:

I can’t handle complex systems. Imagine if this were all one big
celestial accident. The senseless piles up
& with time the mass becomes hot enough to shine. So simple,
the shine, & so beautiful. Its beauty may put you in shock.


This is a calling Hart shares:

Weird wonder these days how it only gets darker
and figuratively speaking full of teeth in the glow.

(“Wolf Face”)

Each poet has the presence of a mythic punk Ted Hughes. They address the indecipherable density of existence, even sharing images – the senseless mass, the teeth in the glow – as the frightening repeatedly returns to the beautiful. They find levity in darkness, trusting in the knowledge that the richest blood in the heart flows darkest. The poems arrive enmeshed in the lives of the poets, because the poets place their faith in experience, perception and people. There is no escapism to be found here. There’s much to be lamented, but importantly, there’s plenty to enjoy.