Favorite line: “I hope to define. But who can understand the complex that has / gone trudging before. / Determinant & co-determinant!” –from “Spring Psalter”
Nerds like me can now feel hip and trendy (in the poetry world, that is). For that large, large niche market that enjoys a little sixteenth-century English literature/post-modern mash-up, The Wonderfull Yeare by Nate Pritts is for you. While there are many aspects of this book that would be interesting to discuss (form, how it conforms to the shape of a “shepherd’s calendar,” soundplay, etc., this post is going to please all y’all that like to talk about nature vs. artifice. Can I get a “Hell yeah!” Elizabethan poetry nerds?
In this book, Pritts’ speaker puts his will against the power of nature and inevitability, occasionally resigning to it but not quite giving in. On a quest to find the “Determinant and co-determinant!” of why his romantic relationship is failing and what role he plays in it, Pritts attempts to re-order the seasons to save his romance from fading––with the idea that if he can change nature’s sequence, perhaps he can change himself, or at least define himself.
But the speaker’s repetition of phrases show the seasons’ shifts still control the way he arranges even his thoughts, with the new seasons’ images bringing new associations to the author. For example, the falling of leaves makes the speaker wonder whether he is losing himself like a leaf from a branch––something he hadn’t uttered before. He asks whether simply naming something differently can change an outcome. Eventually, he seems to realize only poetry allows him this privilege and control, and even then, his thoughts are limited by the repetition of seasons and mistakes that recur in his life: “Every year it’s the same damn thing, / a constant red ache.”
In the end, even poetry betrays him; in trying to make sense of his “Memory separate from Imagination,” he must place the poems in chronological order by season. The book is divided into four sections, each after a season, so when the speaker is re-hashing an “Endless Summer,” a current one is leaving him in the dust, leaving him to rage over wasted time spent laying under stars. This section is probably the strongest (or at least equally as potent as “Spring Psalter”) and best shows the mind’s ability to circle the same event or moment over and over.
In ”(interlude 1)” of the section “Winter Constellations,” the speaker makes his most desperate attempt to control his surroundings:
Leaves & face wet from mist,
the silence in me, the silence of stars,
of all the miles that separate us.
I want the stars to move.
Above us, the brightest stars.
Here, to keep his love fixed and to bring her closer, he wants the stars to move based on his location. While this is clearly just a wish, the speaker is beginning to wear down, giving up his fight to manipulate nature to fit his own desire. Later in the section, he realizes his “desire’s inflexibility” and the world’s rigidity. It seems the two will always be at odds, and the poet constantly in a struggle to find new ways to think of the world, to find himself without redundancy, and man constantly fiddling with the time on the clock.
Fun Fact: Nate Pritts is the founding editor of H_NGM_N, an online journal and book series.