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