Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sensational Spectacular in Kangaroo blog

25ยบ 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.