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.