Tuesday, September 16, 2014

REVIEW // from The Volta


Right Now More Than Ever by Nate Pritts

RNTMEI met Nate Pritts at a chapbook festival in NYC several years ago. He was representing H_NGM_N, the small press he created in 2001. We spoke briefly about the poetry of William Heyen, the possibilities of the lyric essay and chapbooks. I remember feeling totally at ease in our conversation. It was honest: no academic fencing, just two people talking about what poetry could be. Since then I’ve been interested in his work, and when the opportunity came to talk about Nate Pritts’ most recent book (he has five previous full-length books and many chapbooks), I couldn’t resist. Like our brief conversation, Right Now More Than Ever is honest, engaging and inspiring.
The title suggests an urgency that charges the entire collection and is repeated as the heading for each of the book’s three section breaks. The primary concern for Pritts here is the ephemerality of existence — the need to know things in their layered presences, and love them, before they’re gone. I was reminded of the “saints and poets” from Wilder’s Our Town: those who “realize life while they live it…every, every minute.” This is a standard poet’s call, to carpe diem, to love life, but in Pritts’ hands, it achieves urgency with a tenderness and luster that makes it real.
In his words, from the longer poem, “Rise Time”:
Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 11.49.28 PM
Here Pritts invites at least three perspectives: the speaker’s (presumably his own), the friend’s, and the reader’s, who in turn might assume the role of the speaker seeking “deep attention” or the friend that takes in all at once. These multiple perspectives enhance the layered feeling of the poem while inviting the reader to participate in its meaning. Pritts’ juxtaposition of real and abstract elements and his use of fractured lines, takes in everything from toys to planets while making a place for us at his kitchen table.
The images in these poems also extend an invitation. They are clear and accessible while achieving a kind of universality that allows the reader to claim them. From “Locomotive In Autumn”:
Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 11.51.37 PM
Simple concepts are enflamed by the setting sun as we have all seen our world aflame at the end of the day and wondered at it, more perfect in its passing. Pritts enters the poem as goldenrod, then as a tree trying to stave off the inevitable, or at least hold on to what he can for as long as possible. The language is sincere and affecting; it achieves the quality of late afternoon light.
Pritts best offers and celebrates his world as a layered experience, lived through multiple perspectives at once. These lines from “In Memory of My Feelings”:
Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 11.55.12 PM
Again, Pritts invites the reader to participate in the poem, hold and breathe the poem along with him, to exist with him “right now more than ever.” Because…
Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 11.56.48 PM
The poetry in this book drew me in and held me for several todays of reading and thinking. That’s what I want every book of poetry to do — to inspire me to “deep attention,” to make sense of right now in my own way. The book is full of epiphany and rapture and the quiet falling of leaves. Get two copies of this book. Give one to a friend so that when you have both read it you can talk about what you’ve found. As Pritts says in the brilliantly titled “Origami Bird in October Monday Light”:
Screen shot 2014-05-05 at 11.59.21 PM
This book is one of those things.
Right Now More Than Ever is available from H_NGM_N Books
Peter Vanderberg served in the US Navy from 1999 — 2003 and received a MFA in Poetry from CUNY Queens College. His work has appeared in CURAAssisi andNewtown Literary among other journals and is featured in collaboration with his brother James’ paintings in their book, Weather-Eye (Ghostbird Press, 2011). He teaches at St. John’s Preparatory School and Hofstra University and lives on Long Island with his wife and three children.

Friday, November 1, 2013

REVIEW // from [PANK]

Review by C.L. Bledsoe
106 pgs/$14.95
There’s an immediacy to Pritts’ title but also a bit of gibberish in it. It smacks of a slogan, well-meaning but also empty. And couldn’t so many of our most meaningful and important life moments be reduced to slogans, sadly? Throughout this collection, Pritts expounds on the idea of presence, of being part of his own life, of not just observing but really experiencing and interacting with those he cares about, but at the same time he mocks his own efforts, refusing to take himself too seriously or allow himself to venture into the realm of “preciousness.” He is (trying to be) “here” right now more than ever, as in present in THE present, but the spotlight he’s shining on these efforts is also a little silly, as he tells us by mocking at the same time he recognizes its importance. Basically, it’s nothing special to be present in one’s own life (everyone does it, theoretically), but that doesn’t make it any more important. This mocking also smacks a bit of self-defense: if it isn’t special, then it also shouldn’t be that scary, perhaps.
In “Talking About Autumn Rain” Pritts begins:
I hereby submit this yellow leaf as my charter,
wet & preserved under snowpack – Syracuse
blunt, a backyard bluster of stark white –
though it’s early December which means it’s
autumn & the rains that rain & melt the snow
are still autumn rains. Sirs: This application contains
six parts – a missing casement, two atria, two
vehicles & respected sobbings. Also,
more than a gallon of blood. Please wear gloves
when handling to ensure proper emotional distance
from the exploding world I can’t make sense

Pritts’ exploding world is the world outside the mind which he may have “railed against/ in the bright sunshine of [his] morning li[fe]” (as he states later in the poem) but now, as he’s apparently gotten older and gained some life experience, he’s begun to make peace with it. I’m reminded of Robin Williams’ character The King of the Moon, in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen, who has split his head from his body in order to pursue the life of the mind separate from the body, which runs around humping things. But as with the King, one must eventually rejoin the mind to the body or else miss out on much of what life has to offer.
A surprising reoccurrence in this collection is imagery of the natural world. Pritts’ real talent lies in the startling line, the unexpected image. In “The Hills Have Justice” he includes several: “When I don’t notice something,/ I do it strong.” “I will never reflect on my life/so I won’t have to feel bad about it./Overheard, the sky full of etcetera…” And later, “My heart a vacuum in June. My head/full of bad dreams, hundreds of them/every night like sharp stars.” He continues with a powerful image of natural justice which would serve better as an ending to this poem:
The lake full of monster.
Every city has one, something big
under the surface waiting to destroy it
before some other beast gets the pleasure.
“Sentimental Spectacular” is a touching love poem which begins: “Of all the snowflakes rocketing early/through the late fall air, I’m only going to remember//the forty or so stuck to your hair.” In “Rise Time,” Pritts marvels at how overwhelming and dangerous the world can seem. He finally realizes, “I knew then that my life’s work would be reassembly/& thought that would be a fine way to live.//No more eyes to see with/just an instruction book.” His focus has become on death and endings because he’s become concerned about and attached to his present.
Pritts hasn’t wholly adopted the mantel of a nature poet, though. He experiments with form and meaning with poems like “Flamingo Poem Poem”:
I’m going to flamingo this flaming
into flamingo & call it Poem.
I’m going to golden sun behind clouds,
feather & haze propped up on one supporting
fact like a leg plunged in water. Exuberant
declaration! O Insight, O Epiphany!
I’m going to diction. I’m going to shifting
tone: serious consideration given to the Fanciful
bursting off. I’m going to poem this poem into poem
& call it Flamingo…
Pritts is a well-known figure in the small press world, an editor for H_NGM_N journal and press and frequent contributor to many journals. This collection feels like a coming of age for him, combining playful experimentation with real depth.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

REVIEW // from LitBridge


Right Now More Than Ever, Nate Pritts (h-ngm-n books, 2013), Reviewed by Elias Simpson
Right Now More Than Ever relieves us of the internal conflict of everyday life. It is chock full of wonder, full of the miracle of “everything happening.” It brings to the reader an awareness of simple marvels. Nate Pritts has joined a concrete perspective of things with a reflexive conceptualism. Doing so he reveals how a mere moment of seeing can change the world, how we can be separate and united at the same time, and he expresses the most vital currents of emotion: joy and sorrow. For those wondering how to change his/her poetry, this is a remarkable example of how to break through conventions, through poetry.
As reflected in the clouds and the snowflakes in “Origami Bird in October Monday Light,” he writes, “There are things that happen only once / happening all the time!” An origami bird, a poem, a tree, they are unique creations. Light itself must be different at every second. The exuberance of Pritts’ tone strikes a chord similar to that of “Let Me Get Up Early,” which it immediately reminded me of. In it, the French poet Eugene Guillevic writes: “Let me get up early and see the boxwood / that probably works as hard as the bee, / and let me be satisfied with that” (translation by Teo Savory).
In Guillevic the selflessness of morning helps him to see beyond the human condition. Pritts concludes his poem on a similar note: “There was a tree yesterday that might have held / thousands of leaves or snowflakes or tears or birds, / or thousands of years of trying to be better.” From these lines we are relieved of the human-centric view of the world. What a relief to understand that we are not alone in striving. All aspects of nature share the aspect of work; paradoxically, this also makes each of us unique.
“Negotiation Protocol” is a poem titled after the everyday difficulties. In it, Pritts emphasizes the value of uniqueness. The tone is more critical, stating “We understand / certain things are appealing.” This time it’s pergolas and backyard gardens that show “we’re something different / something necessary that can’t be ignored.” Yet the assertion that material acquisition leads to happiness is half-hearted and skeptical. The poem concludes with one of those universal truths, springing from the critical study of the daily negotiating. Lines such as this connect each person through his/her different distance: “Everything hurts if you do it right.”
I consistently found myself most attracted to the theme of suffering and humility in Right Now More Than Ever. The ability to poeticize the hurt and pain of everyday life is rare in American poetry. In these poems, magically, the acute awareness of separation allows for its calmly understated entrance. At moments when Pritts is most aware of the distance between everything, he remarks at either the empty space or the felt feeling. Note the beautifully dramatic linebreak in Rise Time [I like a wild cosmos],
What I love about love is that it’s a problem
how you can never take other things into yourself
                enough                   or never see yourself reflected

in every mirror all at once.
All you can do is ache        & stay alive.
Elsewhere, separation from specific characters provides similar sentiment-cutting. In “War Music” the speaker reflects on the American privilege of security. The poem begins with the speaker entering the public world: “I am driving to get a coffee /            because without Jenny            my whole life falls apart…” On his excursion the speaker fairly estimates (beautifully!) the ugly aesthetic consequences of convenience, electronics, the information age, and security.
     I know I will have this same face

tomorrow              & the same soft American heart
                my stupid American ego    I will not be dead

                my family won’t be threatened
though we are already scattered & lost to each other forever…
Effortlessly heartbreaking, the poem measures our cultural gains against our cultural losses. True to the poetic tradition (think Wordsworth: “…we lay waste our powers”) we end up wanting what we’ve traded.
A gentler metaphor in “Inarticulate Bird” might help the reader recover. It begins similarly, the speaker is searching in vain for his companion: “Every person I see today / is not you in any way at all.” Returning to the shifting images of clouds, and light, Pritts writes: “How many clouds / does it take to block out the sun / when the sun is really a thing / in your heart burning?” In a poem about empty space and absence, this image is useful in creating a material space. What we thought was far and unreachable is inside of us. Aren’t all words, as concepts, inside our heads? Thus the poem concludes “This poem is only a Poem / so it is not the actual love you want.” Regardless, it’s the poet’s privilege to create levity (playfulness) from tragedy.
I find in Nate Pritts’s book Right Now More Than Ever a reverent attachment to life. By giving his attention to the instant of thought, Pritts navigates an edgy exterior, and often arrives at the smoothness inside. These truths provide relief without forgetting the difficulties that got us there. The poems speak to a lost self, an identity unable to moor in the material world. It offers the reader a unique understanding, a niche protected from the current of cultural connotations washing through our lives. It searches for a lasting and permanent peace, a place of jubilation. And while Pritts does surrender immortality, he also wins the moment; Right Now More Than Ever buoys the reader’s breath and consciousness, connecting her, for the moment, to everything.

Monday, September 9, 2013

REVIEW // from The Adirondack Review

Right Now More Than Ever by Nate Pritts


Right Now More Than Ever begins with a solicitation to the reader: “I would like to request a volunteer.” He later states “...only if your hand is actually a sunflower.” In this poem, “Demonstrated Melancholy,” and throughout the collection he blends these kinds of fanciful addresses to the reader with references to suffering and sadness peppered with small doses of magical thinking. 

While reading the poems, one begins to sense a deep wound that is never mentioned outright. As one might engage with a child that won’t say where it hurts, the reader is left to look for clues where she can—in the poet’s directives, listing of objects, and descriptions of the bleak landscape; in the pain of being young, gifted, and a poet in Syracuse. 

The Syracuse part is key. Syracuse has long, frigid, unrelentingly cold winters.

How cold is winter in Syracuse? Cold enough to necessitate an eHow article titled “How to Survive Winter in Syracuse,” in which the eHow author states that, during the long winter months, his iPod would often stop working. If we are largely products of our environment, a poet from such a place can’t help but feel the conundrum of an artistic yearning trapped in ice.  

        Once upon a time long long ago
        I was born in Syracuse & immediately
        started dying.

        My light was so bright then it flickered.
​                                             ("Rise Time")

There are poems about writing poems, about rules, directions, and identity. They reveal the workings of a mind grappling with subzero temperatures, a mind that starts fixating on things because the body is more concerned with survival and has hijacked all available resources. In this state, you might make up provisional rules that you follow to the letter. You might become obsessive. But also clever:

        The trees are already empty. It’s not fall
        in Syracuse. It’s fell.
        It’s exquisitely sinister. It’s really this terrible. 

While at times the poems can verge on sounding too similar, they build up to poems with surprising energy. One of the liveliest poems is “35th Birthday Vortex Sutra,” a happy birthday poem from Pritts to himself that casts a spell of sorts—an incantation on the delight of being alive and having a birthday, even if there is nothing particularly happy about it.

        . . . How do I
                    start this frenetic reverie,
                    this noisy noise,
                        when I know the past has left me
here alone without any tree to sing to
or a girl to call mine own or a fast fast car
    to take me spinning down the coast, dizzy
                        with love,
                        dizzy with hope.
. . . & all honor
to your name Nate Pritts, 35, ceasing not,
  blundering stupid, wondrous strange,
          & so what.

In “Tulip Street,” Pritts takes another hopeful turn when pondering the sunlight that is a clue to warmer days ahead. The poet notices how the traces of sunlight over the trees and the street are affecting everyone and everything:

        . . . I notice

        the snow melt and how there is just some green
        exposed in the park which reminds me & everyone

        about spring. Not today, but it’ll happen soon
        for real, the real will be real & the flowers

        we see will be mad with movement,
        loud colors in the world instead of memories. 

The poem is nicely rendered and gives the reader hope that Pritts will see more loud colors along with winter’s sludge. Or get thee to Florida.

ALLISON ELLIOTT is a freelance writer based in New York. 

Saturday, August 17, 2013

REVIEW // from Columbia Poetry Reviews

by James Eidson

Nate Pritts’s book Right Now More Than Ever (H-NGM-N, 2013) retools memory and sentimentality as a lens through which we magnify environment, text, and emotion. In it, Pritts plays with perspective: the foregrounding and back-grounding of his memorial inner-life – how the dimensions of love and trauma in our subconscious landscape direct perceptual attention.

He invites us to become aware as readers. If we see and assemble experience associatively, Pritts urges us to read as artists – as people with singular histories prone to seeing and processing his work through unique tastes, and Pritts gives us many opportunities to practice this confidence. Take the first poem, “Demonstrated Melancholy,” in which he assumes the role of a magician disclosing his trick:
I would like to request a volunteer. Please raise your hand
only if you are a lovely singer in possession of your own voice . . .
Some materials
will be supplied but others
you should bring from home.
He takes a meta-cognitive backseat, often versifying his blueprints for ideas of poems, rather than giving us anything definite. But if Pritts has gone draughtsman, the burden is on us to raise the dream-house:
I need help reconstructing these crayons . . .
I need you to bring me a really long saw because
I am going to put you in this box
and prove that I understand the finality
of separation.
Not that Pritts bosses us around. In his voice, uneasiness undercuts instruction, but uneasiness comes at the risk of his trust in us to deal with such transparent work. It’s this position of vulnerability that encourages our confidence to deal with his poems as brokers rather than voyeurs.

Yet, ironically, Pritts raises audacious questions. In “Welcome to Paradox,” he writes:
The poem is the place where I work out possibilities
instead of real life where there are consequences
where the results could be disastrous.
Despite the line’s resignation, Right Now More Than Ever feels like a defense of fantasy. If memory and sentimentality formulate our possibilities for perception, then the empirical world we experience can really only role-play through the grueling defenses and expectations of our psyche’s hard fiction. Poetry is
A field where everything happens . . .
You believe it all equally
just to see where it leads.
But really, do we only have intrigue? Are we, willful individuals, kidnapped by drives at the intersection of our subconscious and externalities? Pritts seems bothered by more interesting possibilities. In “Rise Time,” a reflection on and letter to confidant, Matt Hart, he writes:
Real life is all around us and it’s running out… I’m dazzled by the quality of my friend’s deep attention… the focus that he chooses which is everything together… a collage of sympathies… it’s my sad quest to divest every moment of meaning / before it runs out on me and leaves me alone.
Our experience is finite. In the face of death, the ways in which we bring it to distinction are underpinned by futility. It is hard to feel secure – to trust the speed of life enough to experience it without being stultified by its tragic blur.  But Hart sees this as a foundation for empathy.

Yes, Right Now More than Ever explores the ego in isolation – it’s an honest account of confusion in a world we can never quite distinguish, but ultimately, it explores the nature of choice. Consider the resurgent page-breaks reading “Right Now More than Ever.” We don’t have the kind of will we think we do. We can only turn up the volume of our awareness to a flood of experience, which is endlessly gradated and navigable. Pritts self-loathing is more of a zooming lens than a pity fest. He isn’t being raw. He writes with a confidence you’re not supposed to notice (the book’s spare, distillate form). He wrestles bad faith with conviction. Plath and Sexton were more guarded.

I don’t believe his angst.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

REVIEW // in Coldfront!


Reviewed by Lucy Biederman
“…the leading man in a Romantic poem”

Nate Pritts has said that he is interested in poetry as opposed to individual poems. One can locate this focus in the attention and emphasis Pritts places on creating and forming a speaker/self across the space of a book. In his sixth book, Right Now More Than Ever (H_NGM_N BKS 2013), Pritts not only allows but cultivates a sense of the tossed-off, the experiment, even the mistaken—there are tries within these poems that other poets might have edited out or not have thought to include in a poem in the first place.

Much of this book is spent considering the imperative to poetry and engaging with and against the traditional or expected topics of lyric poetry, like nature and the self. In the stichic “The Hills Have Justice,” the speaker declares:
I will never confess what I did.
I will never reflect on my life
so I won’t have to feel bad about it.
Overhead, the sky full of etcetera
Etcetera, full of verse chorus verse.
Pritts possesses a poststructuralist Romanticism that, even in the long shadow of Ashbery, does not ironize itself. The speaker’s dramatized search for self and poetic school seem to be one and the same: his refusal to “confess” himself seems an eschewing of (and a tip of the hat to) Confessionalism, and his refusal to “reflect on my life” recalls—and complicates—Wordworth’s definition of poetry as “emotion recollected in tranquility.” Moving his gaze to the sky as if out of other options, the speaker describes it as “full,” but full of “etcetera etcetera” and “verse chorus verse.” The poet speaks within a world that seems empty in its fullness, or a poetry that has already been filled before he arrived. The imperative, then, throughout much of this wonderful book, is to invent or discover a poetry of space, an imperative for an imperative for poetry, when the sky is already “full of verse chorus verse.”

As that passage from “The Hills Have Justice” suggests, Pritts’s speaker routinely travels through potential selves, and through the history of poetry, searching for a place. In this landscape, there seems to be no division between poetry and personage. In “Collected Recollections,” the speaker seeks and creates opportunities for various utterances and selves:
I was dressed like the leading man in a romantic comedy
from the 1940s, debonair in grey flannel. A flower
in my hand or a flower held out to you.
I was dressed like the leading man in a Romantic poem
from the 1840s, soaking wet in ruffles. O I fall
upon the thorns of life several times per season
but most often in the Spring. It could have been any day…
Here the speaker’s “style of dress” works both metaphorically and metonymically, suggesting that a change in form could change the implications and meanings of one’s poetic utterances. Being dressed as a “man in a Romantic poem” changes the speaker’s diction and tone: “O I fall / upon the thorns of life.” Ironically, though, the poem maintains its form, continuing along in long-lined couplets as Pritts performs these stylistic experiments.

The typical poem in Right Now More than Ever has a four- or five-beat line and consists of neat tercets or couplets—usually slightly more than a dozen of them. Some of the book’s most exciting moments, however, occur within poems that are looser, longer, or less formally rigorous. An example of this is the beautiful long poem at the heart of the book, “Rise Time,” which begins with a kind of parable in which the speaker hears a crash in another room: “I knew then that my life’s work would be reassembly / & I thought that would be a fine way to live.” Reassembly seems an apt word, given this poet’s “life’s work” of reimagining Romanticism using the poststructuralist tools that contemporary poets hardly know how not to use.

One reason “Rise Time” is so successful is that its length and formal looseness speak to the book’s central themes of self-creation and the multiplicity of selves that are present within a single self. Pritts uses the white space between pages, stanzas, and lines to create a sense of breath, thought, and time passing—a sense of, as the poem put it, “dailyness.” Across the poem’s nine pages, Pritts has the space to feel and express a wide variety of feelings and selves, some of them contradictory, in a variety of forms. “You shout the present alive with your mouth. //  I see it all turning into a ghost” one page ends; the next begins, “I like a wild cosmos.” With each new page, the speaker starts again with a new tone, like going to bed depressed and waking up feeling better.

The lush and gorgeous occasional poem “35th Birthday Vortex Sutra” is another of the book’s successful departures in form and content. The poem’s form, as its title suggests, follows that of Allen Ginsberg’s “Wichita Vortex Sutra.” But it seems to take Ginsberg’s swirling and various lines as a suggestion, a starting-off point, rather than a strict blueprint. Its variety of line lengths and tones provide the speaker a form suited to his multifaceted sense of self. Here there is room to repeat and reiterate, to say and un-say, to try and try again:

And he that stays
is you, he that stands is you & all honor
to your name, Nate Pritts, 35, ceasing now,
blundering stupid, wondrous strange,
& so what.
I can see so much of me, can see
with the flame of what bright light
that, O, if there be more of this here
then alright, okay—
lonely & torn up & screaming
for more, hallelujah, Happy Birthday, amen.

In the beginning!


Heart is on the Floor // 

“Demonstrated Melancholy” from Right Now More Than Ever by Nate Pritts

You can listen to Nate read the first poem from his new book here, or read on below where he writes a little bit about how the poem came about!

The poem “Demonstrated Melancholy” began with the title, which happens a lot for me - a poem is the process by which I understand the title, is generated in response to the implicit energies therein.
But to be more explicit about how I viewed those energies: I was writing with my friend Annie Guthrie about using emotion & intimate personal detail in poetry & I said something flat and dull like “These new poems of mine are sad” & Annie wrote back & said something radiant & layered, “But demonstrated melancholy is beauty, and beauty makes me happy.”

I fixated on the performative connotation of that word “demonstrated,” which sets the stage for the stage setting at the beginning of the poem. If I could be something besides a poet, I would be an escape artist, a stage magician like Mr. Miracle, but of course that admission speaks volumes about the emotional position of the speaker here! 


It continues in this vein, the speaker indicting & savaging his own tendencies & habits (the dismissive “I have a thing for dinosaurs & lunar cities” is meant to evoke a sense of distancce but also, behind the curtain, admits how I sometimes feel about my overly sensational or spectacular poems). And there are references & riffs throughout, most especially to the Saves the Day song “Rocks Tonic Juice Magic,” but I’ll let you figure that out yourself.

*As a hint, you should listen to the song on YouTube either in the original version, while watching the unchanging still frame image of mudkip, or in the adorable L0vexray’s strident acoustic cover version.


I would like to request a volunteer.
Please raise your hand

only if you are a lovely singer
in possession of your own voice.

Please raise your hand only if your hand
is actually a sunflower. Some materials

will be supplied but others
you should bring from home. You must

have a home from which you can bring things.
I need help reconstructing these crayons

that broke in half after she told me
what I kept drawing wasn’t right enough.

I have a thing for dinosaurs & lunar cities.
I was trapped in a mythical past; I was imagining

an improbable future.
I need you to bring me a really long saw because

I am going to put you in this box
& prove that I understand the finality 

of separation. You’re going to need
to bring some replacement parts

for the parts of you damaged in the performance.
I’m going to cover you with a sheet

& when you disappear you will need to yell
indicating to the congregation

that you are disappearing. Can you yell
frantically? I may need to say “I am in love with you”

but trust me: it’s only temporary. When I snap
my fingers, you’ll wake up & forget all of this.