Right Now More Than Ever by Nate Pritts

H_NGM_N Books, 2013

Right Now More Than Ever begins with a solicitation to the reader: “I would like to request a volunteer.” He later states “...only if your hand is actually a sunflower.” In this poem, “Demonstrated Melancholy,” and throughout the collection he blends these kinds of fanciful addresses to the reader with references to suffering and sadness peppered with small doses of magical thinking. 

While reading the poems, one begins to sense a deep wound that is never mentioned outright. As one might engage with a child that won’t say where it hurts, the reader is left to look for clues where she can—in the poet’s directives, listing of objects, and descriptions of the bleak landscape; in the pain of being young, gifted, and a poet in Syracuse. 

The Syracuse part is key. Syracuse has long, frigid, unrelentingly cold winters.

How cold is winter in Syracuse? Cold enough to necessitate an eHow article titled “How to Survive Winter in Syracuse,” in which the eHow author states that, during the long winter months, his iPod would often stop working. If we are largely products of our environment, a poet from such a place can’t help but feel the conundrum of an artistic yearning trapped in ice.  

        Once upon a time long long ago
        I was born in Syracuse & immediately
        started dying.

        My light was so bright then it flickered.
​                                             ("Rise Time")

There are poems about writing poems, about rules, directions, and identity. They reveal the workings of a mind grappling with subzero temperatures, a mind that starts fixating on things because the body is more concerned with survival and has hijacked all available resources. In this state, you might make up provisional rules that you follow to the letter. You might become obsessive. But also clever:

        The trees are already empty. It’s not fall
        in Syracuse. It’s fell.
        It’s exquisitely sinister. It’s really this terrible. 

While at times the poems can verge on sounding too similar, they build up to poems with surprising energy. One of the liveliest poems is “35th Birthday Vortex Sutra,” a happy birthday poem from Pritts to himself that casts a spell of sorts—an incantation on the delight of being alive and having a birthday, even if there is nothing particularly happy about it.

        . . . How do I
                    start this frenetic reverie,
                    this noisy noise,
                        when I know the past has left me
here alone without any tree to sing to
or a girl to call mine own or a fast fast car
    to take me spinning down the coast, dizzy
                        with love,
                        dizzy with hope.
. . . & all honor
to your name Nate Pritts, 35, ceasing not,
  blundering stupid, wondrous strange,
          & so what.

In “Tulip Street,” Pritts takes another hopeful turn when pondering the sunlight that is a clue to warmer days ahead. The poet notices how the traces of sunlight over the trees and the street are affecting everyone and everything:

        . . . I notice

        the snow melt and how there is just some green
        exposed in the park which reminds me & everyone

        about spring. Not today, but it’ll happen soon
        for real, the real will be real & the flowers

        we see will be mad with movement,
        loud colors in the world instead of memories. 

The poem is nicely rendered and gives the reader hope that Pritts will see more loud colors along with winter’s sludge. Or get thee to Florida.

ALLISON ELLIOTT is a freelance writer based in New York.