Friday, March 19, 2010

from Unsplendid 3.1

part of Douglas Basford's preface to the issue, found in full here:

Nate Pritts's new book The Wonderfull Yeare may well involve tilting of the head back to unleash a torrent of sound, as we find towards the end of Agee's Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,

It became clear that it would be between an eighth and a quarter mile away; and this became remarkable to us because at that considerable distance we could nevertheless hear, or rather by some equivalent to radioactivity strongly feel, the motions and tensions of the throat and body, the very tilt of the head, that discharged it.

But it is not a sound that one would hear except when you hear a person muttering to himself, cursing himself for past shortcomings and bad decisions. The title comes from the Thomas Dekker masterpiece of 1603, a part-prose, part-verse chronicle of the plague in England, beginning with a tender portrait of the queen succumbing. Like Dryden's more famous Annus Mirabilis sixty years later, the title is the quintessential rosy-colored glasses: it's a year of miracles because things could have been worse.

The recursiveness of language in "Endless Summer" builds a stifling momentum, as in the second quatrain here (lines long enough to require turning the text 90 degrees clockwise, just for this poem):

endless & I said things like "If I ever see you again"
but I'll never see you again I never saw you again I made sure of that
& I circled the lake I went in circles the lake was endless it was
summer I fucked up too much time & I never saw you again & I

And here is a segment of the first of the "sonnets for fall":

& the whole world brand new again
& me & you naming everything

in an attempt
at an original relation

but I just can’t see myself
in me

Even though there is a time-worn tradition of punning on fall and The Fall, I find in Pritts great possibilities for the development of the lyric poem and of the sonnet as a record not of seductive progress but self-perpetuating sentiment, language repeating itself to such a degree not that it abrades meaning but that it instead leaves an abrasion that constantly reminds you of its presence, like a patch of scraped skin. Pritts is not afraid of the expressive, nor of what might appear to be embarrassing. In this way, he reminds me a great deal of Aaron Kunin (see The Sore Throat and others, being his binary hand alphabet "translations" of Maeterlinck and Pound, which thrive on Silvan Tompkins's identification of shame as the most visibly uncommunicative—and hence repetitive—of the emotions). Kunin might say, "I can say 'I' with more quotation marks around it than anyone on the planet," but together I think it's fair to say that Kunin and Pritts are the closest to the raw spirit of the Renaissance of most poets writing today. I say this with all admiration, not because they seem to be able to work back to a time before what Eliot—erroneously or not—called the "dissociation of sensibility" ended the Metaphysicals' rein. No, that distinction comes instead, I think, from the sheer risk involved in opening oneself and one's feelings to extinction.

This is where Pritts's best line of the book resounds: "Everything anticipates. My love." The semiotic and hermeneutic possibilities here are very 17th-century, as is the self-exposure. The ungrammatical breakage of the sentence into two fragments leaning against each other for support emphasizes the precedence of "everything," a kind of Wittgensteinian play on language predating the self? "Anticipate," it should be remarked, originally meant to take possession of. It is not merely that everything presages and prepares for the speaker's love, it also takes possession of it almost even before the speaker knows he loves.

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