Big Bright Sun by Nate Pritts, BlazeVox [books] (2010) 100 pages, paper.
Big Bright Sun, Nate Pritts’ fourth poetry collection, is full of layered images, the gathering of a world and encounters with it, through all of its turns and slips. Here, the speaker encounters a sometimes oppressively bright landscape. His striking idiom and sense of selfhood, his simultaneous fascination, faith, and distrust in language, his commitment to poetry, and, I think, to a kind of poetic grace, pull us forward along the journey. What sustains, what matters, what is lost and realized, are crucial concerns of Big Bright Sun. The remarkable collection looks to poetry, the self, the sun, and not least of all, to the significance of the words like “hello,” for discovery, warning, and resignation.
Unlike the usual three-section poetry manuscript of the moment, Big Bright Sun is a collection undivided. The poems themselves organize and pace the book, with the weight of everything embedded inside the poems. They don’t require structure imposed by section numbers or titles, but rather move in a way that is organic and satisfying, and allows the pieces to speak to and about each other, drawing and expanding images and themes not just line to line, but poem to poem to poem.
Although the collection lacks explicit structuring, it includes various types or categories of work, like poems that begin with the phrase “All my poems,” the three “EMERGENCY POSTCARD TO YOU” poems, and several poems with bracketed titles. Pritts synthesizes from different chapbooks or other projects effectively. The thoughtful distribution of the pieces provides the reader with touchstones, with moments to breathe and reset or moments of great urgency and speed. This mingling of modes and patterns, even of voices, allows us to see what the sun refuses to hide in shadow, to feel the brightness articulated by the speaker. The arrangement of the poems, the way they become a coherent collection, is a major achievement that allows the book, as well as the individual pieces, to fully resonate.
Through this arrangement, the significance of language and its relationship to action (even inaction or almost-action) and performance, not to mention poetry, is one of the speaker’s central preoccupations. From the beginning, Pritts’ highlights the role of language, unpacking what is inside the words we use and read and write. For instance, in “Dear Hello,” the collection’s opening poem, the speaker considers
isolate flecks everywhere, there is me
talking to you now everywhere
& in my talking is me walking to catch
the bus in the snow or fireflies in pines
or it is evening & the now purple sky
knows I am going to hoard some silence
because I want to throw myself
into some more now (17)
Embodied in the speaker’s talking, in his language, is his action, including its many potential variations, regardless of time and space. Or, perhaps it is only almost-action, the action that simply could’ve been. Talking doesn’t seem restricted to memory or time, or even to recognize them.
The next poem, “For My Mind is in Constant Baffle,” highlights the importance of the sun and explores the communicative nature of organized language, as well as the power of the language to create: “This text depicts love, beauty & thunderbolt. / Is my text your text? Can we say it together / & will the true sounds in it sound true” (18). The speaker urges new recognition of the sun, and urges the reader to understand this impulse, including the way there are things the speaker himself doesn’t understand yet. This isn’t just the speaker’s world or the speaker’s sun. Rather, as he puts it in “I would like a bed in the wilderness,” the speaker is “wondering, hoping something / I’ve said makes the kind of sense that saves” (35). Language offers the possibility of redemption, but only through meaning, which requires something beyond the words themselves. Poems like the brilliant “Foreshadowing” (68) go even further, exploring not only language, but also the nature of personal narratives and how we (mis)read them.
In a similar way, the speaker’s conception and articulation of selfhood runs through the poems of Big Bright Sun. Pritts crafts a remarkable voice, rhythmic and sound-conscious, that also creates a stunningly developed persona with whom the reader connects. Pritts chooses an idiom that is at once relatable and essential, while still refreshingly unique. These poems have both voice and vision, and it is here that the self reaches for the self and for this self (selves) to be understood.
The speaker relies on the negative, on the opposition to the self, to find “how the ‘me’ may be revealed by the ‘not me’” (74). In other poems, the layers or versions of the self, and the distance between them, become clear. For example, “Good Luck!” begins, “Though I’m sitting here hunched over, my innermost self reclines / on my couch about five miles away & between us is roughly // three tons of dark air” (76).
Throughout the book, I’m particularly impressed with the “All my poems” pieces. Scattered across the collection, they offer insight into the making of poems that encounter self, brightness, and destruction. The “All my poems” pieces give the poems themselves a voice, filtered through the speaker, and suggest the kind of intensity the speaker wants (or wants to want) for his language. I think we sometimes try to dismiss writing on writing or poems about poems, but Pritts gets us invested and takes these ars poetica moments further, past or through art into living, into construction and personality and what it takes. My favorite is “All my poems…” (70), which is a hard poem to excerpt since the whole piece is tight and arresting, with the right bravado and humor and craft, each line building the previous. Deceptively simple and far from simplistic, the poem demonstrates Pritts’ mastery of voice and project:
& they order three separate meals,
breakfast, lunch & dinner,
& those poems eat a little from each plate
because they live a whole day
in, like, thirty seconds, man, & these poems
call your girlfriend right in front of you
In Big Bright Sun, the speaker is a “Dangerous Intersection,” the crossroads between versions of the self, between time and truth, experience and memory, between poem and sun and self. But there are lacks, even here, even where so much seems to converge with such speed and intensity. After all, says the speaker, “You can count how many chairs in a room / but not how many happinesses / & that is the heartbreak of humanity” (78). The collection rings with this insight and voice, with lines and forms that live with pain and past and present, “like this now kind of hurts thinking of that now,” like “In Los Angeles they have earthquakes / everyday but you learn to compensate. / You learn to work with what you have” (31). “All of this is, frankly, // too much” (28), says Big Bright Sun, but we must hear it, feel, and be overwhelmed, to witness what won’t stay dark.—Callista Buchen