by Nate Pritts
BlazeVOX Books 2007
Reviewed by Ben Mirov
There is an unabashed revelry in Nate Pritts’s Sensational Spectacular that reminds me of certain poems by Frank O’Hara. In O’Hara poems like “Having a Coke with You” or “Ode to Joy,” passions take precedence over highbrow intellectualism. As a result, the objects in the poem become manifestations of the poet’s more intuitive emotions. In Sensational Spectacular this tendency leads to an appealing, bombastic aesthetic. Take for example these lines from “A Day in the Life”:
Any patch of land with a giant grenade buried in it
knows exactly how I feel, like I’m about to be
all up in the air (…)
More ephemeral comparisons can be made between O’Hara and Pritts. Sensational Spectacular is bookended by two sections called “Secret Origins” and “The Brave and the Bold,” which catalog the exploits of a narrator and his friends: Red, Green and Blue. As in many O’Hara poems, Pritts’s concern in these sections is the dynamics of interpersonal relationships. Red, Blue and Green get in fights, play games, fall in love, and have adventures. The result is an intimate look into a “scene.” Just as O’Hara’s poems encapsulated the burgeoning yet exclusive art and poetry communities in the 50s and 60′s, Pritts’s poems examine the inner-workings of a small select group:
My friends and I believe in excluding newcomers
from our secrets: secret lair, secret handshake.
We collect our separate feeling of scorn
&rage& elitism the way other groups of friends
collect sea shells on the shore of the vast
ocean of Hello! (…)
The main difference here is the manner in which the people in the poems are presented to the reader. In O’Hara we get names like DeKooning, Ashbery, Freilicher and Goldberg, figures with personal and artistic histories. In Sensational Spectacular, the identities of the characters involved in the poems is masked and abstracted from the burden of history by their identification with the colors red, green, and blue. Red, Green and Blue feel like real people, but their personas and exploits develop in an imaginative otherworld, simultaneously like and unlike the world in which we live. If O’Hara had chosen a sort of dream-world constituted by his imagination rather than New York City, he might have written poems very much like Pritts.
There are many aspects of Sensational Spectacular that are unique. One of the most appealing nuances of his writing is its relentless sincerity. Nowhere in these poems does one get the feeling that the author is holding back or evading the reader for the sake of cleverness. The best poems feel unabashed and outrageous:
My life is a funhouse: giant faces taunt me
& every cornering reveals another hazard
volcano simmering in the guestroom, dinosaurs
holding bazookas. As if their teeth weren’t enough.
In these lines from “Never Be the Same Again,” the giant faces, the volcano in the guestroom, the bazooka wielding dinosaurs push the envelope, but what they lack in terms of subtlety, they make up for with their wholeheartedness. For all the risks Pritts takes in Sensational Spectacular, he never veers into affectation. In a time when so many poems are nothing more than impressive panoplies and poets can find a million precedents to divorce themselves from taking responsibility for their lines, Nate Pritts is a refreshing, entertaining writer. I look forward to seeing what he does next.