Tuesday, June 14, 2011

from PANK


Big Bright Sun By Nate Pritts (A Review By Brian Fanelli)

Blaze Vox [books]

100 pages, $16

Nate Pritts begins his fourth collection of poems, Big Bright Sun, with a quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “But for me the earth is new today, and the sun is raining light.” For Emerson and other transcendentalist writers, nature was a source of relief and comfort, but in Big Bright Sun, the fragmented, juxtaposed images and landscapes, especially the sun as its brightest, are often oppressive and a reminder of fleeting moments and failed relationships.

Pritts’ variety of forms in his fourth collection is impressive. The poems range from fragmented lyrics, to couplets, to journalesque lines, especially in the poetic sequence “Monday, Monday.” Though the book contains several different forms, the poems do have a fairly consistent speaker, a man who frequently ponders lost love and fleeting moments throughout the collection. His turmoil is highlighted best through the sometimes jarring landscapes and images Pritts wove throughout the collection.

One of the most striking strengths of Big Bright Sun is Pritts’ ability to depict a sense of longing for past experiences, and his meditations on failed relationships. However, there are times in the book where Pritts captures the excitement of new love, including in the poem “EMERGENCY POSTCARD TO YOU (1).” The speaker’s lover serves as relief from a ho-hum office job, especially as he thinks about seeing her in the sunlight “of anytime.” But by the poem’s sequel a few dozen pages later entitled “EMERGENCY POSTCARD TO YOU (2),” the speaker has grown impatient, due to the “luxury” of seeing his lover “in the sunlight of anytime/at every single any-given moment of the day.” And by the end of the poem, the speaker is “furious at the leaves skittering around” and waiting for the phone to ring, for a voice to say hello.

There are other poems that also successfully capture the theme of regret and soured relationships, including the longer narrative poem “An Instant in Time.” Similar to other poems in the collection, “An Instant in Time” features a speaker who is stuck on the past, who empties a “glove box of old letters,” who stares at a photograph of an old chair and misses his lover. In the same poem, Pritts uses nature imagery, as he does in other poems, to highlight a relationship gone wrong. July’s heat has “turned stale,” and November’s haze is “stifling.” Tiger lilies are depicted as “burning, lolling orange tongues/streaked yellow, curling & mute.”

There are times when the tone and voice of the collection is a little less self-loathing and unstable and the poet is not afraid to poke fun at himself. In “a three-dimensional person,” the speaker jokes:

To make the person I write about more interesting

& also more complex, I pretend he is a me

who is crazy-sad about a lot of things really.

At times, after reading a slew of poems with unsettling, disjointed images and landscapes reflective of the speaker’s emotional turmoil, I wanted to read more poems like “ a three-dimensional person,” poems with a change in voice and tone that provide some levity to the book.

What Pritts reminds the reader, however, is that there is beauty in ugliness, even in misery, and in everyday, often ignored scenery. He highlights this point best in the poem “Beautiful Nonetheless.” Here, the emphasis is on landscapes not always thought of as beautiful, including “yellow-headed dandelions poking up where they don’t belong” that are labeled “pretty.” Even thorny flowers that make the speaker sneeze, that could well be weeds are also dubbed “beautiful nonetheless.”

Pritts concludes the book with “Big Bright Sun,” a poem that features more fragmented lines and juxtaposed images. But, like Emerson, the speaker hopes to find some salvation in the sunshine, as he confesses, “Still hoping for forgiveness/in the shine of the sun/I’m trying to do right/by the people I love.”

Big Bright Sun successfully showcases Pritts’ ability to write in a variety of forms, while still maintaining a fairly consistent voice and speaker throughout a collection. His images sometimes leave a reader feeling uncomfortable or unsettled, but they serve well in capturing his speaker’s shifting and often unstable state of mind.

Brian Fanelli is the author of the chapbook Front Man. His poetry has also been published by a number of journals and websites, including Young American Poets, Chiron Review, Word Riot, Boston Literary Magazine, Breadcrumb Scabs, Indigo Rising Magazine, and Blood Lotus. His work is also forthcoming in the Pennsylvania Literary Journal. Visit him at www.brianfanelli.com.