Ohio: Pritts at Case Western; Christle at The Big Big Mess

Nate Pritts, founder and principal editor of H_NGM_N and H_NGM_N BKS, visited Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland last week for a series of lectures with undergraduate poetry and philosophy classes that had been reading and discussing Pritts’s latest book, Sweet Nothing (Lowbrow Press, 2011). Topics of discussion ranged from O’Hara’s Personism, the tracing of an identity via the process of writing, contemporary hybridity, and poetry both as vocation and an individual search for autonomy. Below are selections from the lectures, all from Pritts:

“The activity of writing a poem, to me, trumps the poem itself…. We have this idea that there’s a type of poem that exists that is art, it’s created and shaped and constructed as a thing, and there’s another type of poetry that is a spiritual process – I view my own work as that activity. I’m generating material. I’m literally generating myself. I’m sort of furnishing this architecture of my own identity by writing about it. I think I’ve processed my life through reading and writing and seeing myself in what I’m reading and writing and having my own experiences reflected back to me.”

“I have a sense of poetry in which the form itself – the tension of the shaped lines, the discipline of writing it on paper – becomes a very spiritual activity for me. It’s a type of communication that shows earnest effort and diligent love in a way that a phone call certainly can notate, but might not necessarily have inherent in its form. So I could call somebody, O’Hara could call somebody, I could text somebody right now and tell them something, but thinking deeply about my own impulses moves me to this form…. There’s a way in which the form I’ve chosen helps me to not just communicate what I’m trying to communicate, but also to literally think what I’m trying to think.”

“There’s this anthropological term that I’ve gotten really excited about called “pattern exhaustion,” which is what happens when a particular tribe would start making these intricate designs on their pottery and at a certain point we can document where they stopped because they’d been making the same patterns over and over again. They forgot to explore, they forgot to grow, they forgot to try something new, and we call this pattern exhaustion. It’s the reason why sometimes very crude archaeological finds will come after really intricate archaeological finds. Not because we’re wrong with our dating, but because the particular people we’re examining sort of got sick of themselves. I think that part of what happened to me leading up to the Sky Poems [from Sweet Nothing and also a chapbook from The Greying Ghost] was that I had gotten a little sick of myself. I had figured out a way to write a poem that could guarantee a poem. I could sit down to begin this process that would result in a poem that had all the things I prize in a poem – it would be there, it would be done – and I would have scratched the emotional or spiritual itch that I had and could then go have lunch with my friends or something – and that became really unfulfilling for me…. What we demand of our artists is that they keep growing and changing and developing in some way. I certainly try to demand that of myself, but I feel like I had fallen into a little bit of a rut. I don’t necessarily to mean to be talking about the poems so much as I’m talking about my compositional strategies and what was being satisfied through the process of writing these poems…. The Sky Poems were really important to me because I didn’t know what I was doing [when I was writing them]. Maybe for the first time in 10 or 15 years I didn’t know what I was doing and I was really happy just to explore and see what that might mean. I didn’t feel constrained by anything. I just wanted to see what would happen.”

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In other news, Heather Christle, Ben Hersey, and Emily Mitchell will be reading in Akron at THE BIG BIG MESS READING SERIES on Wednesday March 14, 6-9pm. This is the final reading in a tour that has taken Christle and Hersey across much of the eastern half of the United States.

On Friday March 30, YesYes Books will also come to THE BIG BIG MESS as part of the release tour for Thomas Patrick Levy’s first full-length collection, I Don’t Mind If You’re Feeling Alone. The line-up includes Thomas Patrick Levy, Nate Slawson, Peter Davis, Krysia Orlowski, and Jeff Hipsher.

- Nick Sturm