Sunday, April 4, 2010

from 360 Main Street

by Emily Hendren. Found here ::

The Wonderfull Yeare: a shepherd's calendar
Nate Pritts
Cooper Dillon Books, 2010
Review by Emily Hendren

Nate Pritts presents his third full-length collection of poems, The Wonderfull Yeare: a shepherd's calendar, with romantic reverence and unconventional, effective language and structure. He asks his reader to question what is and is not, to explore the duality of substance and existence (and non-existence), and to search for reason among doubts of time and space, love and purpose, and fact and fiction. With meaningful words repeated and cast in circles, Pritts becomes an artist of storytelling and invites anyone who will venture on a journey through The Wonderfull Yeare.

Spring Psalter

The first of four seasonal sections opens with exalt and declarations of devotion befitting the section's title, Spring Psalter. The book introduces themes that trace the seasons, nature, love, and the inevitable—beautiful and torturous—passing of time. Arguably the most conventionally structured section, Spring Psalter invokes romantic language, stylistic mechanics, and repetition to begin the story. In the first poem, "Tulips—An invocation," Pritts uses both first and second person in simple present tense to suggest an immediateness and to connect the reader to the action. The lines "Rains come" and "A flimsy curtain separates" draw the reader into the moment as a participant in the scene rather than a distant observer.

Pritts also uses language to add a romantic sensibility to the text. Lines like "Darling, I leave you the forever unblooming ..." and "you: graceful passage from one something to the next" from the section's second poem, "Spring Psalter" (the section title’s namesake), build a sense of softness in the work and tenderness in the narrator. The reader is able to partake in the narrator's romanticism and may relate to notions of feeling a part of a larger whole. Pritts also uses his word choice to draw a parallel between the narrator's romantic love and Nature. The cooing line "Darling, darling, darling:" of the poem continues not with the expected, traditional declaration of love, but with "my voice is a branch," a line that models Pritts's quality of natural believability in his tone and voice. He is able to make the harsh unharsh, the untender tender because the narrator speaks with confidence, and in response the reader believes the unexpected turn in the line.

One of the most noticeable characteristics of the first section of poems is the crafted repetition of words and phrases, a technique the reader later sees carried throughout the rest of the book. Pritts's use of repetition becomes a mirror to the cyclicality of the seasons and human life, and adds a songlike quality to the poems, which seem to have verse and chorus. The closing line of the sixteen-page poem "Spring Psalter" reads: "But like a song, compelling, compulsive: / one more time, please, with feeling." In addition to the poems' musicality, lines that were originally statements reemerge as questions, suggesting the natural human tendency to doubt and creating a frenzy of deconstructed, pantoum-like poems. Even lines from separate poems repeat themselves within each other, so that by the end of several pages the reader asks if "hush and whiffs" were describing the voice or the dusk or the light. Yes.

Pritts also repeats lines that convey a state of being rather than specific imagery, offering the reader the freedom to interpret each line's subtleties. While a line like "I will be a long time in the air & a longer time away" does not give the reader a solid image to grasp, it provides, nevertheless, a beautiful suggestion to ponder. The very nature of Pritts's language parallels many of his lines' inquiries and invites the reader to ask questions in response.

Endless Summer

The second section, Endless Summer, furthers the feel of songlike repetition, but in a much more carefree, stream-of-consciousness sensibility. The brusque language, the missing punctuation, the enjambment and spacing of words and lines, and the poems' sideways-facing direction introduce the reader to the whirlwind that is love, lies and loss; the passage of time; and endless nostalgia. The romantic, academic tone of Spring Psalter is replaced by a narrative voice that manages to call himself a "fuck-up" eight times in one poem yet still remains endearing, if not tender. The juxtaposition of the narrator's self-flagellation with lines like "the light from stars moved so slowly & you moved off / forever" and "when I see you the trees will cluster green rage green trees raging / with love endless love & I'll never see you again" gives the poem a human quality; people—especially those in love—act in circles of emotion, often simultaneously demonstrating flaw and beauty, swearing while describing a star-filled sky.

(Sonnets for the Fall)

As he does throughout the first two sections, Pritts asks his reader to speculate the unspeculated; he asks his audience to imagine the season of dying and finality as a starting place for life. Not unsurprisingly, the poems in this section overflow with purposeful repetition and simple, beautiful lines. The section begins: "I want this to be the season / of distractions: waking up / I'm lost to myself breathing / & there's one less leaf in me." Like Endless Summer, this section lacks punctuation and lets words and lines flow closer to and away from one another.

As the title would suggest, the poems in the third chapter are sonnets—loosely. At first glance, none of the fourteen poems appears to be sonnets (perhaps why the title of this section is in parentheses), but with a closer look, the reader discovers that themes traditionally found in sonnets (time, love, and beauty) scatter the pages of this section. The reader also discovers that all but two (sonnets XI and XIV) follow the standard fourteen-line rule—though these poems avoid the traditional sonnet shape and structure, and almost all forms of rhyme or conventional rhythm.

Leaving behind traditional sonnet structure, Pritts employs his own tactics to draw in the reader and show the versatility of language. Lines four and five of sonnet IX demonstrate how a simple addition shifts the meaning and attention of the line: "chill in the air & it's making me / chill in the air & what it's making me." The final two lines of the same sonnet repeat each other exactly, a return to the final Shakespearean rhyming couplet and a gesture that suggests coupling as a theme of the overall poem: "& me & you naming everything / & me & you naming everything." Pritts again repeats the same line twice in a row in sonnets X and XI, heightening the cyclical characteristic of the already repetitive poems.

Winter Constellations

The fourth and final chapter of poems returns to a structure more similar to the poems of Spring Psalter. The lines of this section's work, while much shorter and broken into subcategories, remind the reader of the first section of poems with its punctuation, accented line breaks, and capitalization. Pritts also returns to the theme of smallness amid larger "somethings" when he states in the opening poem, "& then afterward," "We don't matter a bit," triggering bells of recognition of lines past describing the narrator's feeling as part of a larger whole.

The fourth section of poems also makes a return to happier days of love, times that seemed bleak through bouts of loneliness and lies in the middle sections of the book. Pritts takes the reader through the moments of coupled bliss and the inevitable sour times that follow, stating: "Our arms laced together / pointing together / over wind-tossed grasses," "Together in that first sun / so vivid," and "The stars are close; we try to hold together. / All this ends." As the journey of seasons unfolds its beauty and cruelties, so too do the strands of romance and relationships.

The book closes with poems that remain consistent with the repetitive, storytelling style, but with a bolder tone and much clearer imagery. The poem "morning, noon & night" captures the memory of a woman's life and characteristics in beautiful snapshots, declaring: "Her fingers in the air, on my chest, in the air," "I see birds cutting / through the air, see the air they’ve sliced through," and "Through clouds, I see sun / & my chest empties. / Her fingers soar through / & my chest empties." The imagery throughout the lines of the final section grounds the book's circles of language and reminds the reader that every story has a subject, and the subjects of this story are loss, woman, Nature, shepherd, man.

Nate Pritts will read at Court Street Gallery's Last Friday event on March 26th with Matthew Falk and Matt Hart. The event starts at 7 p.m. with music by Mike Galbraith. Cost is $3.00. For more information on Court Street Gallery's Last Friday event, visit

© Emily Hendren, 2010

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