Review: H_NGM_N

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Nate Pritts is on a mission. The author of six books of poetry (all published since 2007) and founder of online journal, H_NGM_N, he currently lives in Syracuse, NY. Aside from committing to and existing in the pressures of his own work and craft, he also engages in the service of teaching, having previously taught business and creative writing at various establishments in his Finger Lakes hometown. Olivia Cronk of Bookslut calls him an “everyman” capable of producing the “awkward silliness of a 1950’s sci-fi-comicbook-pow-bang-robot-technical-failure world.” If in his own work, Pritts does indeed reside in a, “rich, vivid, [yet] slightly troubled world,” as suggested by Justin Taylor of Poetry Magazine, he also situates himself comfortably (or as comfortably as a writer can) in a community of peers interested in the same or a similar purpose. Interviews with Pritts (his own self-dosed questionnaires as well as several writer to writer sessions with reviewers) present Pritts and his journal as entities that are actively enveloped in an ongoing conversation about what creative writing, poetry in particular, is and what is can or should be. Since 2001 H_NGM_N is an indication, one bulb strung next to many other blinking lights on a dash, one of many critical presences trying to signify the status of contemporary poetry. This is what journals, online and other, should do.

So what color is the light? How bright, how often is it blinking? Let’s talk more about origins, poetics. Pritts requires of and strives for in his own work, not simply the act or evidence of the Poem, but insists instead on a Poetry, both formal and conscious, that demonstrates a hard and true record of living in the world specific. My guess, he wants something full—not heavy. As prime architect of H_NGM_N’s various endeavors, annual(ish) online publishing of poetry, prose, reviews, etc.; production of PDF chapbooks as well as print books, he appears to select from a neighborhood of writers who create a similar poetry to his own. The mission, which Pritts, his team of editors (Poetry: Sarah Certa, Claire Cronin, Liz Green, &Robert Krut) plus the writers selected and published by/under H_NGM_N are involved in, could be corrective, as Pritts suggests in an interview with Gregory Loveless, but it also feels genuinely collaborative. What does the journal strive to publish and what is it hopefully correcting? Well, Pritts offers the notion that H_NGM_N is an adjustment to the online scene of writing (poetry). He seems intent that his work, his journal, and his fellow writers (and their work), exist, not without tension, but between certain modes: the airless and the airy. Pritts claims, in the same Loveless interview about his fifth book, Sweet Nothing, to avoid poetry that is “stodgy and stuck on itself,” while also pushing away poems “that are written loosely and with energy, with obvious excitement, but which have forgotten how to be human, how to have empathy.”

A “flip” through the online pages of H_NGM_N will illuminate that Pritts and his editorial crew are finding and selecting work that has something eager behind it. Two poems from issue fifteen that seem to avoid successfully both of the aforementioned, distrusted categories, include the work of Lucy Biederman and Kyle Constalie. Biederman drops the (seemingly) spontaneous names of locations and references that could be mere filler, props even, but in the context of the poem’s intimate and emotional atmosphere these places, characters, items attach themselves to and thrive in their appointed locations—they create space for meaning beyond their allotted volumes. Tired of hearing/using the words “intimate” and “atmosphere”? What I mean, the poetry that Bierderman releases in, “Nature Poem,” really happened, happens, and continues to breathe in each ongoing encounter with her words, the symbols on the page (err, screen). She writes,

Flash forward all these years to Virginia

 

Weekends way down deep—New Orleans

Savannah, Atlanta, mhmm

 

You could never be real to a place like this

 

& I’ll never see him again

& we’ll never be Facebook friends

 

Or I’ll stop exercising & the news will end

 

Old Virginia singer stop singing

I’ve felt too much today

 

All the raw material in the world can’t save me

 

I’m about to be thirty & over & I’m afraid but

Not about how I won’t get any taller

It’s not because I recognize the southern state(s) or know I have felt the ground of the rest stops between them; it is the writer’s sincerity behind these places, her commitment to the life leaked into them that makes me feel connected to the lines and “all the raw material in the world.”

In contrast, Kyle Constalie works his poetic material(s) in slightly different ways, queuing the reliable sequence of words and thoughts, the sounds and metaphors I am comfortable with, even providing some solid stock images or the occasional colloquial phrase, only to support the inevitable shake. How he uses surprise in foil and vice versa: lungs that are wings and wings that are lungs—yes, I believe those two things, I have heard them mentioned together, but not pressed against “the snowhill inside your chest.” In the next line, I don’t suspect the universe’s necessary illness and its regular planetary prescription. I don’t predict the rapid movement from innermost to outermost and back in just a few moments; the reason I accept the koi fish that are of course “always in over their heads” is because immediately after I am forced to see the snow of the speaker’s eyes. He writes, as part of the poem, “Sniffle,”

If only your lungs weren’t wings

giving rise to the inside of you.

If only wind wasn’t the only voice air has.

The snowhill inside your chest

has a life sledding down it that wants

never to lose the slope, like hope the Earth

is more than just a pill the universe has to take.

The koi fish in the water we speak over would die

if they weren’t always in over their heads.

My eyes are snowing.

And you keep leaning your face against the air.

The snowy vision seems authentic; it feels held to some series of serious experience and expectation. I sense that Constalie and Bierderman aim at a hybrid dance, which exists between the POEM and POETRY, between the weightless and the falling dead, these two realms that Pritts moves to define.

Other poets that H_NGM_N presents in its most recent issue seem to fall in line with Pritt’s aesthetics; the journal as a whole seems motivated to disclose and explore the deep. Many of the poems contained in issue fifteen, shift between the interior and exterior while resisting and simultaneously sampling the consistent struggles of each day. Some of these troubles, the same sort of kind aching that infests Pritts’s own writing, usually go unnamed or are simply called upon using the only truly possible words (those unspoken, unwritten). An extra brief synopsis that Pritts offers for his latest book, Right Now More Than Ever, taken from one of the poems in this collection, goes,

Once upon a time long long ago

 

I was born in Syracuse & immediately

 

started dying.

 

As the minds behind the journal proclaim, H_NGM_N is a way of life, a type of attention; H_NGM_N is both action & reaction. It’s the nexus of old tech & new tech – dittos & screens, human hearts & digital speed. True, I found that the journal does adopt subjects in every matter from the futuristic and electronic to the coarse and mundane. H_NGM_N hopefully continues to maintain some dear attachment to life while leaning an eye toward a close correspondence with something like or near death. This peculiar position should keep the journal and its editors tuned to the vast movements around them as well as allow time and space for Pritts and neighbors to oscillate within their own declared parameters. Mary Ruefle, in a recent visit to Columbia College, reminded writers, the person (the writer) in a room by him/herself is not the same as the individual of or for the public; “these are two different things,” she said, with no qualifiers mentioned. Pritts seems to trust in a necessary straddle between these two realms and I am eager to believe his wish to, at times, “define [him]self away from the reader.”

-by Natalia Kennedy