Review of Nate Pritts’ Big Bright Sun (BlazeVox 2010)
Vincent A. Cellucci
Three things attracted me to Big Bright Sun before reading it: presently I am attracted to all subjects sun and I am also aware of Dr. Pritts’ far-reaching H_NGM_N publishing community. Thirdly, I do visually judge books, and Marc Brotherton’s “Subvertor” used as cover art with Geoffery Gaztza’s design fuse to make a very flattering form for this collection of poems. Pritts’ book is a big book too, shining exactly 90 pages of poetry. There is a safety in this Big Bright Sun that many readers will admire while pleasantly basking in its warmth. But a subject such as the sun requires a higher poetic SPF for repetition, the idiomatic, and sentiment. Please indulge me while I make a few sun-as-verse subject investigations and “answer” (as if there is only one sun) in review (you’ll see):
Why complicate the sun?
Pritts’ Big Bright Sun is written in a state of admiration and poetic simplicity that the ancient Chinese poets would have lived and lauded. Don’t get me wrong; it is very American. You won’t find any Apollo allusions, alliances with Plato’s Forms, or overt astronomical jargon in Pritts’ pages—the most complicated poem on the natural subject being “Phase Study.” He does contemporize this state with the technological. The most effective poem to this extent is “Everything is a File”, where Pritts admits: “I’m compiling sunlight.” The poem ends with one of the most effective images in the entire book: “a directory of sunlight appended to the me/ blinking slowly, like a cursor: Hello, world.” This is also the poem where these two subjects get blatantly juxtaposed, and the more generous thesis could be created and supported involving society’s transition from a heliocentric to technocentric universe. If that’s the premise of this volume, BBS needs more poems like “Data Viewing Device” and “Future Shock” and less like “Three Birds” and “So Many Happiness”—although this poem contains a brilliant moment where Pritts identifies the human inability to count the types of happiness as heartbreak “just like flight is the heartbreak of birds.”
Why complicate verse?
Pritts established the motif of the lonely astronaut before BBS, projecting the title metaphor of his second book, Honorary Astronaut (Ghost Road Press, 2008), in this collection’s “Black Bear.” Just as astronauts are the pioneers of space, the poet is the pioneer of language. The appeal of the idiom makes it attractive but it must be complicated if writers as meaning makers are going to say anything “new to-day” (Emerson quote from BBS epigraph). Simple repetition (e.g., colors in “Dear Hello” or “Will I see you in September”) causes this BBS to sometimes flicker and potent examples of Pritts relying on idiom can be read in the book’s penultimate poem “Daisy”: “whatever happens to you just happens to you” or “that one plus one is still one/ & do unto others but I just don’t know.” Just as light contains the spectrum, idiomatic representations must be complicated before they reveal their light; otherwise language dims on idiom like “a fire burns in my heart” (“I would like a bed in the wilderness”).
Pritts produces some formal complications in “Monday, Monday” which pairs a date and a weekly line for each month of the calendar year (presumably 2006 to get the dates and Mondays to add up). The poem also includes some legible cancelled text and blanks. “Future Shock” is composed of another interesting form, delineating a series of poems from feud fragments. Pritts has a powerful penchant for series poems (discussed more below) that are intensifying resonances, reminding me of Hayes or Hass.
Isn’t truth simple?
Pritts’ poetic sensibilities are evident in the titles of his poems. The [bracket titles] turn titles technological, and repeated titles (i.e., “All my poems”) align poem orbits around BBS. There is also an open-ended Personism prevalent in this volume; poems like the numerated series EMERGENCY POSTCARD TO YOU are warm attractions. In earnestness and intent, readers can spot Creeley and New York School sensations. Mostly the title EMERGENCY POSTCARDS TO YOU and the implications of a revolving Personism in this collection reflect O’Hara, a comparison attributed to Pritts’ poetry before this review.
Differentiating it from O’Hara’s, both ends of Pritts’ Personism are open. My absolute favorite conceit streaks the various “me(s)” a person embodies. Here Pritts gets into a subject much larger than even the sun. Or maybe equal. Yes. Let’s say equivalent: the amount of “me(s)” that flare to the surface from our individual cores. Now that’s an image that reminds me of this cool new video released by NASA. In “That Me”, Pritts writes: “I’m convinced we step out of ourselves/each moment, splitting off/ to become this me or that [me].” This review rockets past the stellar ending of “That Me” only to instead preview its complementary poem, “You Machine.” Here, the lover charges as defibrillator: “& when my heart stops there’s only one machine,/ held tight to my chest, that can restart it.”
Is it not truth if it is sentimental?
The brightest failure of the personal could be identified as sentiment. Sentiment burns in writers. How much oxygen does the sun’s sentiment require? The quantity for a person? Or a writer— signifivice. The most sentimental lines conclude the final stanza of BBS’s title poem: “Still hoping for forgiveness/ in the shine of the sun, I’m trying to do right/ by the people I love.” Trajectory is the tragic flaw of these lines: the open-ended Personism Pritts has been developing slips and digresses to sentiment best reserved for family. Acting as my own antithesis: there is an appealing sentimental moment in “Can’t Stop the Signal” (a luminous poem where the poet informs the onomatopoeia of “beep”ology) which reads: “I miss myself/ most of all.” This line is successful sentiment because it reminds readers and writers of something they wrote. The shade of the line can be observed as disappointing because there isn’t a shining moment in this book that Pritts picks this line and re-informs it with his Personism and “me(s)” conceit.
Big Bright Sun’s dedication is to “you.” I inferred this open-ended Personism applies to one of “me(s)” that I most regularly think of as myself. I think it’s no dark secret by now that I’m writing about the sun too and I may have taken a less personal approach to this review if the book wasn’t so directly expressed to the Personistic “You.” BBS has my compliments: Pritts eagerly directs his voice to all sun-worshipers and Big Bright Sun exudes some prolific rays. Grab your semiconductors.
Vincent A. Cellucci wrote An Easy Place / To Die and he is the founder of River Writers, an Exceptional downtown Baton Rouge reading series. For more info: please visit Vincent.