Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sensational Spectacular in Kangaroo blog

25º and thick strips of clouds, sun sifting through

As some of you may remember, I won a copy of Nate Pritts' first book, Sensational Spectacular, in a Goodreads giveaway. I was unfamiliar with Pritts' work, but with the chance of a free copy, I was willing to throw my name in the hat. I must also admit that I was curious after seeing the promotions for his new book from Cooper Dillon on Facebook. So that's how marketing works! Little did I know there would be 500 or so other names in that hat and only a handful of copies to give away. Woo Hoo.

I've spent the last week or so reading this densely packed adventure. The book occurs in three parts: 1) Secret Origins, 2) Big Crisis, and 3) The Brave & The Bold. Parts 1 and 3 are composed of two short poems per page concerning the speaker and a group of friends, largely identified by a certain color (Red, Blue, Green) unique to each. Each of these small poems is titled with a colon before the first word of the title and after the last word in the title, providing a frame. In the table of contents, the individual small poems are not listed, so these titles are really intended as section breaks in a long poem called "Secret Origins" and another called "The Brave & The Bold." The poems in the middle section are titled normally and are almost entirely about the speaker, minus his friends.

I mentioned that Pritts' poems are slightly outside my comfort zone. They feel very youthful to me, and I do not mean that as a slight in any way. There is humor here, alongside longing and angst, and a definite sense of the conversational, everyday language spoken in plainspeak, but arranged with a whimsy. There is a fascination for hammers & tools, rockets & robots, and all things outer space. As I read, I felt like I was being allowed to overhear the intimate daily thoughts of a man not entirely grounded in the sludge & trudge of this workaday life. It grew on me.

Perhaps the sign of a poet's success is this struggle I feel to write about the poems. They stand for themselves. So, here is the ending of one of the short poems from "Secret Origins," ":Bowled Over:," in which the speaker explains how he and his friends "enjoy competitive games" like bowling and bird watching.

.........................................................My friend

in blue tries to see only blue birds, turning a blind eye
on birds of any other color. His bird watching totals

are staggeringly low. My friend in red counts
anything he sees in the sky as a bird: airplanes,

dandelion pollen, clouds.

And here's one of my favorites in its entirety from the middle section "Big Crisis." Notice the subtle use of sounds, although often askew from traditional placements. You have to read it out loud. (The lines are double spaced in the original.)

Requiem for the End of Time!

Assume there's someone else

pulling my strings, my mouth

opening to say the one thing

that will bring you back to me

but uttering nonsense instead.

Covered with cloud, I'm shaking

as my stupidity grows to silly

proportions. Yesterday morning

I saw the hooded man with the axe, yes,

I was led onto the stage & told to sing

my last. I inhaled & what I inhaled

turned me into a robot, my limbs

clunky & hollow, my chest filled

with gears & pistons where

breathing & love used to be.

I have a glowing faith

that eventually I will leave this all in the past.

I love the way that last line extends longer than the rest, bludgeoning us with that feeling of wanting to move past what has hurt us. I remember studying last lines in a Form & Theory class with Miller Williams and this change in length being one of the closures presented. Pritts uses it quite effectively here.

Sensational Spectacular in Bewilderment, Inc.

I just finished reading Nate Pritts' new book, SENSATIONAL SPECTACULAR, from BlazeVox and am thrilled to know that it's arrived, it's in print, it's a message from a very human speaker to actual human beings in the NOW of this world! Nate's poems have always wrestled with essentials--Truth, Beauty, the nature of the individual--his wishes hopes and dreams of meaning. And here they speak the essential language of essentials forever--weirdly, subjectively (how else can one speak of "essentials" these days?) with guts and aplomb, over and over in interesting, charming, and heartfelt ways. For example, "Our dreams are dreams/of velocity & truth, of lifting/out of ourselves for a better place" (from "I Wish a Rocket Would Come and Take Me Away"); or "...implication itself such a sorry contraption,/a broken down engine for communicating the structure/of this when you said that" (from "In the Hot Seat"); or how about, "Monkey, lion, fox: switch places with me. Experience what it's like/ for someone to look at you & not call you by your right name" (from "The Walls of Our Sphere").

These poems are earnest, on the sleeve, full of lightness and dark, robots, friend/ships and "all my frantic/ mammal concerns blowing off behind me//in the dangerously perfect light" (from "Sun Brain"). Yeah, that's right. If seeing is believing, then believing is reading this fine new book of poems. As Pritts writes in "Journey to the Stars," "A man tells us to keep our eyes on the skies, that we wouldn't want// to look down and see what the world around us is turning into." I couldn't agree more. And yet, these poems don't ignore what the world is turning into, but rather strive to see it differently--in light of the stars, their community and grace. "For your love," Pritts writes in "Without a Net":

I'd cross from one mountain to another,

walking slow on the long rope bridge to your heart

& I wouldn't turn back even if I saw you

trying to undo the knots that hold me up.

Sensational Spectacular in Coldfront

from Coldfront ::

Sensational Spectacular by Nate Pritts

BlazeVOX Books 2007

Reviewed by Ben Mirov




There is an unabashed revelry in Nate Pritts’s Sensational Spectacular that reminds me of certain poems by Frank O'Hara. In O’Hara poems like "Having a Coke with You" or "Ode to Joy," passions take precedence over highbrow intellectualism. As a result, the objects in the poem become manifestations of the poet's more intuitive emotions. In Sensational Spectacular this tendency leads to an appealing, bombastic aesthetic. Take for example these lines from "A Day in the Life":

Any patch of land with a giant grenade buried in it

knows exactly how I feel, like I'm about to be

all up in the air (...)

More ephemeral comparisons can be made between O'Hara and Pritts. Sensational Spectacular is bookended by two sections called "Secret Origins" and "The Brave and the Bold," which catalog the exploits of a narrator and his friends: Red, Green and Blue. As in many O'Hara poems, Pritts's concern in these sections is the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. Red, Blue and Green get in fights, play games, fall in love, and have adventures. The result is an intimate look into a "scene." Just as O'Hara's poems encapsulated the burgeoning yet exclusive art and poetry communities in the 50s and 60's, Pritts's poems examine the inner-workings of a small select group:

My friends and I believe in excluding newcomers

from our secrets: secret lair, secret handshake.

We collect our separate feeling of scorn

&rage& elitism the way other groups of friends

collect sea shells on the shore of the vast

ocean of Hello! (...)

The main difference here is the manner in which the people in the poems are presented to the reader. In O'Hara we get names like DeKooning, Ashbery, Freilicher and Goldberg, figures with personal and artistic histories. In Sensational Spectacular, the identities of the characters involved in the poems is masked and abstracted from the burden of history by their identification with the colors red, green, and blue. Red, Green and Blue feel like real people, but their personas and exploits develop in an imaginative otherworld, simultaneously like and unlike the world in which we live. If O'Hara had chosen a sort of dream-world constituted by his imagination rather than New York City, he might have written poems very much like Pritts.

There are many aspects of Sensational Spectacular that are unique. One of the most appealing nuances of his writing is its relentless sincerity. Nowhere in these poems does one get the feeling that the author is holding back or evading the reader for the sake of cleverness. The best poems feel unabashed and outrageous:

My life is a funhouse: giant faces taunt me

& every cornering reveals another hazard

volcano simmering in the guestroom, dinosaurs

holding bazookas. As if their teeth weren't enough.

In these lines from "Never Be the Same Again," the giant faces, the volcano in the guestroom, the bazooka wielding dinosaurs push the envelope, but what they lack in terms of subtlety, they make up for with their wholeheartedness. For all the risks Pritts takes in Sensational Spectacular, he never veers into affectation. In a time when so many poems are nothing more than impressive panoplies and poets can find a million precedents to divorce themselves from taking responsibility for their lines, Nate Pritts is a refreshing, entertaining writer. I look forward to seeing what he does next.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Sensational Spectacular in Growler

“No poet, no artist of any art, has his complete meaning alone.” – T.S. Eliot, “Tradition and the Individual Talent”

Sometimes I hover in front of my bookshelf in search of a book that will tell me exactly what I need to hear. I never have any idea what that is exactly, but I know that as my fingers walk the spines of all these poetry books, one of them has something to say to me. Nate Pritts’s book, Sensational Spectacular, is one of those books.

In Pritts’s poems, I recognize my own ambition, love of friends, belief in our own awesomeness, and our almost-assured failure. For poems that strike such a personal chord, it’s telling of Pritt’s abilities that the majority of these poems avoid the first person entirely. In fact, Pritts has such a talent for sudden science-fiction, such quick turns of logic, that it’s hard to say for sure that these poems even take place in our world, what with their spaceships, robots, changing proportions, and occasional lack of gravity.

The book has three sections. The first, “Secret Origins,” and the last, “The Brave & the Bold,” are long sequences of poems all about ten lines long, give or take a line, concerning a speaker and his group of friends. The book begins “My friends & I, we’ve got it all / figured out.” The title poem tells you just about everything you need to know:

:Sensational Spectacular:

When my friends & I sit at the same table
we all get to thinking that our actions are the important ones,

the ones that define the times we live in & that, logically,
we are the most important people alive right now

& that our thoughts are more colorful & exotic & sweeping
than anyone else’s. Then a lightning bolt

strikes the table & cuts it jaggedly in two,
our resulting fear the most spectacular & sensational fear ever expressed.

Who hasn’t felt this way about their friends? Maybe it’s just me, but I feel that way about friends from high school, college, grad school, work, my book club, at the grocery store, at the movies...there are times—few and far between—good times, when the right song is playing, the light is catching just right, and we feel on the cusp of greatness. Most of those times only last a minute or two and then we return to something completely mediocre, but those moments of unlimited potential and belief in oneself and others are at the core of these poems.

Life isn’t all busting through walls and being incredible, though, for this cast of “we”. There are also times when Green fights with Red (the friends are all named by color), when feelings get hurt, and it all seems like it’s about to fall apart. “:Free for All:” ends:

Green secretly changes Red’s mailing address
so that Red will always walk back lonely from the mailbox.

My female friend thinks these are the end times,
that the starfish who loses a limb won’t grow it back,
but instead will devour the others
out of a misguided sense of symmetry.

These poems strike me as a treatise on the best and worst of the poetry community. At our best, we are a self-sufficient, ass-kicking, brilliant dynamo that cannot be stopped from filling the universe with the largeness of our beauty. At our worst, we can be a back-biting, self-promoting, juggernaut of jealousy, content to tear this whole thing down if it gets us our due attention.

Pritts’s poems embody this duality of community and the individual in much more nuanced terms while the absurdity of the speaker’s circumstance, as well as Pritts’s imaginative and unexpected imagery, keep us from ever truly believing or disbelieving the purported greatness or pettiness of this group of friends.

There is another section of the book, “Big Crisis,” most of which appeared as a chapbook from Forklift, Ink. In this section, the collective gives way to the individual, complete with fears and daily problems. “Any patch of land with a giant grenade buried in it / knows exactly how I feel, like I’m about to be / all up in the air,” begins “A Day in the Life.” These poems may be more introspective than those of the other two sections, but there remains Pritts’s twists of reality, as in “Requiem for the End of Time!”:

I was led onto the stage & told to sing

my last. I inhaled & what I inhaled

turned me into a robot, my limbs

clunky & hollow, my chest filled

with gears & pistons where

breathing & love used to be.

I have a glowing faith

that eventually I will leave all this in the past.

The poems in the “Big Crisis” section of the book are heartfelt and insecure, sometimes optimistic and sometimes desperate. All the machismo of the group is gone from these poems and replaced with frailty and a hope that the speaker won’t shatter.

As editor of H_NGM_N, Pritts knows all about the psychology of the poetry, but these poems are clearly more than just a profile of poetry’s insides—and just to be clear I’m not ascribing any of the above emotions to Pritts himself, in truth, it’s pretty obvious I put as much if not more of myself into my reading of these poems than Pritts did in writing them. These poems speak to the place of ambition in human life, the comfort and discomforts of being in a group, and the inspiring potential to change everything as long as we can face the futility of our attempts. Maybe Pritts ends it better himself:

My friends are scattered to the winds & my hair grows grey,
thins & falls, each strand a plea that calls out
so clear it is like the first bird sound in the quiet morning.

- Dan Brady

Friday, May 2, 2008

Sensational Spectacular in NewPages

By Cyan James

Nate Pritts lives in a sealed chamber. At least, I think he does, or wishes he did. Whether the voice in his poems is his own or an invented persona is unclear, but the question is soon overwhelmed by the noisy glass cubicle of his poetic consciousness – things don’t hesitate to boom, explode, and self-destruct. The place simply simmers with internal threat. After all, volcanoes are exploding here, dinosaurs are waiting, lighting strikes, the roller coaster won’t stop, the wind won’t stop, violent floods of emotion assail him, and the light is dangerously perfect. But you only know it because he tells you so. You can’t see it. You can’t break through those glass barriers – no one can. Not the woman Pritts longs after with potent intensity, and not the nameless friends he apparently lives amongst.

Pritts’s poems are landscapes of bottled chaos: this is the eternal now he creates in his poems, where he wakes every day to a treadmill of relentless turbulence while the world continues to wend its determined way beyond his barriers, where he is not seen or thought of.

This one-way mirror effect lends both perspective and claustrophobia to Pritts’s precise, immaculately rendered work. His psyche seems to reel with exhaustion and yet with certain joy – to outward appearances, he seems a man stripped by circumstances and left bereft of anything save his frayed, twitching nerve-ends – yet Pritts’s voice is that of elation as well, of ebullience in the expressive powers of description itself:

My friends & I got ourselves trapped in individual-sized
prisons. We could no longer perform our secret handshake,
kept distant from each other by the unique quality of the bars.
The prisons themselves seemed to grow smaller as night
came on & then, with a blink, they were gone. We were ecstatic until,
in daylight, we realized the bars had formed snug to our bodies,
that we’d wear them always & unnoticeably.

A beautiful description there, one, which starts with implied threat, travels through a moment of glory, then introduces something unsettling. In fact, Pritts seems to revel in introducing an unsettling tone throughout his manuscript. He wants to impress you, to stay tough but to get through somehow, to find a space where longing and frank need appear touching and honest instead of plainly weak and naked. He can startle you with his closeness while simultaneously revealing the vague threat of danger we shelter in all our relationships, as in “Without a Net”:

all the different aspects of myself that I used to hold dear
are trapped in clear bubbles; somewhere, each one
is getting smashed open & what comes out comes out
shivering & afraid. The sunlight turns orange.
For your love, I’d cross from one mountain to another,
walking slow on the long rope bridge to your heart
& I wouldn’t turn back even if I saw you
trying to undo the knots that hold me up.

His deliberate, delicate vulnerability also reveals the way his narrator explores the fragmentation of personality. To Pritts, the self is not complete. It has all sorts of ways of expressing its varying facets, and refuses to be tamped down to just one “personality.” Pritts will acknowledge this explicitly in some places, but in others, it’s left to readers to discern what’s going on. For example, Pritts mentions a variety of “friends,” identifying them only by the name of a color, creating characters who might actually be shades of a single personality, one that is terrifyingly coalescing into a lonely whole. This interpretation perhaps assumes too much, but whether Pritts is talking about friendships with others or fragmentation within himself, he’s a master at delineating the shadow lands of despair, as in “Runaway Room”:

What I hate is when my friends & I
are all having a serious conversation
about appropriately serious subjects
when—out of nowhere—the floor of the room
rips itself out of the building & hurtles
into orbit above the Earth,
creating too vast a distance for us to bridge.

The poems in Sensational Spectacular are full of despair that whispers in one’s ear even as it prepares to launch a surprise napalm attack. It’s this finely keyed emotional intensity, sometimes soft-pedaled and sometimes surreal, that drives the lush simplicity of Pritts’s language, and makes reading this collection such a delicious experience.

erica kaufman. censory impulse. Big Game Books.

The self is accumulated, constructed by the thoughts & actions of our life as it is lived, & Kaufman is able to present this quotidian reality as anything but thanks to the shockingly clear & unadorned language of the poems in her book Censory Impulse. Here, the reader confronts a speaker whose consciousness evolves in a traceable way, & in a process that is deeply human:

so let’s talk. about something.
deep and wonderful.

You can almost hear the rush of childish enthusiasm in the first sentence, that pure drive for communication, clarified with an equally naïve suggested topic (“something”). What drives this book far into your head where it can resonate with the weight & essence of its sheer accuracy is its piercing clarity. All we need to do is talk, just talk, & it will be “deep and wonderful.”

These kinds of insights abound in Censory Impulse, which makes the book more like a reminder than news from the frontline. I’m more comfortable here than I am in most books, because there is a way in which I become the speaker. Without an overwhelming “I,” or a syntax aiming more to dazzle than delight, Kaufman is able to create a kind of participatory poetry. The insights enacted here are mine, too, since they are laid out like math problems with all but the answers chalked in.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Joseph Bradshaw. The Way Birds Become. Weather Press.

One of the most focused and fully realized books I’ve read in a long time, Bradshaw’s The Way Birds Become is an aesthetic project that far surpasses the constraints it sets for itself. Each poem begins with or builds from a line captured from another writer’s poem & the effect of this cacophonous chirping is surprisingly unified; even with these poems “all broken, singing / different songs” the reader gets a sense of one epic movement. The pleasure here is tied generally to two effects: 1) that of seeing theory/constraint put into practice successfully & 2) that of following the workings of one mind on a single, & constantly blooming, topic.

In practice, each of these poems are full of mysterious aphorisms, hazy folk wisdom from the back of the brain that feels right:

If you look out a window from within a bird

you’ll be frightened by the idea

that it’s an eye […]


That’s mostly how these poems develop, direct statements with syntactic or grammatical clauses added that either clarify or change the underlying ideas. These poems are almost devoid of ego; though occasionally they seem to reference something particular – some moment recollected or some situational emotion – the stakes here are decidedly processual, in motion, each poem presented as “evidence / of a sounding.” Even without the development or intimacies of an easily locatable “I” speaker, the poems here are conversational, visionary without all the heady pronouncements & unapproachable exteriors.

Bradshaw ends the poem “E—Hitchcock, The Birds (1963)” with a kind of explanation / apologia for the collection as a whole:

[…] birds become roads after they’re

transformed into and from the weather they once forecasted.

The Way Birds Become exists in the balance of inspiration & impulse, & demonstrates that the surest way inside can be facilitated by forces from the outside.