The only person more dangerous than a dark-hearted man is a dark-hearted man on a sunny day.
There is a dystopian tone to the poems in Nate Pritts’s Big Bright Sun, a Thom Yorke-inflected paranoiac vibration. “…this new century has early // declared there is no truth / in advertising, which means, no, // I do not feel colorful or round or various” he writes in “Sad Tree.”
But it’s not the vertiginous buzz of technology, ads, or even information proliferation that are the oppressive forces in this collection. Rather, it’s the sun weighing heavily on the speaker.
Pritts’s sun functions in a few different ways. It is the teaser of time, more ancient than all of us and bound to outlive our little shenanigans. It is the spinning world, capable of sustaining both nature and the modern inventions of man. And it is the sun itself–beautiful, but cloying when one is melancholy. In “Dangerous Intersection” he writes:
…Bright birds line up
on the bright phone wires by the bright
bright clouds. All of this is, frankly,
too much. When the bright red fire truck
zips (brightly) by I want to yell, ‘Here
is your emergency!’ The red stop sign
sways gently in the bright wind not working
In some capacity, saccharine light feeds Pritts’s voice like a solar-powered engine, propelling it forward. But what is synthesized is despair, a sped-up crying. The voice has no time to stop for “and,” employing ampersands instead. “…one bird shoots out, wings arc & flash, / & then, again, from inside, a bird & it’s full of light, // wild in love, angry at earth & then, from the heart” he writes in “Three Birds.”
Like in his last book The Wonderfull Yeare, Pritts is a facile layerer of images. We get fake animals, a broken sparkleheart, a lute in a window, and flora galore. Ultimately, though, it’s the cadence of the voice that engages the reader. Slant rhyme, and skillfully enjambed couplets and tercets, are the real shakers.
…One thing is certain: I am
not one of those stop signs you speed through! I am a dangerous
intersection; you should use caution when approaching me!
The jittery hummingbirds of extreme hopefulness shake
their wings right off. My wings have long since shaken off.
Pritts could have chosen any number of birds to embody the “extreme hopefulness” of youth: a dove, a sparrow, a baby chick. It’s the frenetic energy of the hummingbird that mirrors Pritts’s speaker’s manic melancholia. He has arrived at a place on the flip side of the heart, where velocity remains urgent but optimism is absent.
By calling himself a “dangerous intersection,” the speaker questions the relationship between poetic self-awareness and the physicality of living. Big Bright Sun is a textual record of mistakes made and insights gleaned, yet knowledge alone is no catalyst for human transformation. Without action, even epiphany is only information. This is a voice that knows its part in self-destruction, but the brakes are broken.