Tree Interview with Nate Pritts
Location: Athen, GA
Do you ever think about trees?
I teach at a small college in Upstate New York. Every day I make my way to the same parking space, one that’s marked by a tree so that my car’s hood lines up dead center with the trunk. It is a generic tree. Standard issue bark. The leaves, during seasons when there are leaves, are colored as you might expect them to be & are shaped in exactly the way everyone, from third grade on up, might draw them. I am often thinking about trees, describing the landscape around me in terms of the quantity or quality of trees present, calculating my position in the larger landscape in relation to trees. I don’t want to feel far from nature, I don’t want to be swallowed by fabricated concrete. I don’t want to lose myself in the dull intentionality of constructed spaces. I want proximity to something which at least hints at the uncontrolled, the vast, the mystery.
What is a vivid/significant memory you have involving a tree or trees?
I grew up in the suburbs & the most noteworthy aspect of the otherwise unremarkable house I grew up in was the massive Weeping Willow tree in our backyard. It was all green & yellow & shade. The fronds hung down like curtains & I was always enchanted by the way it created a space – a room – inside itself. You could part the long slim branches & step into something. Summers, I’d take a chair & sit “in the tree,” underneath it, & read for hours – all morning, whole afternoons. It was here I realized someone must have written the words I was reading – chosen them on purpose & set them down – to commune with me, to create some kind of connection. I knew I wanted to do that too – for the other kids like me scattered & lost in their own neighborhoods, wishing someone knew how to talk to them.
Are trees involved at all in your writing or worldview?
These days I don’t have much of a yard, just a weedy green square in back with a few overgrown tangles of rich vines. Because of the awkward early 20th century design of the house, none of the windows face there anyway. The property next door, an industrial looking box which serves as a halfway house for kids transitioning out of juvie or too old to go to another in a series of foster homes, has a few trees growing in back though. I can see those out my living room window from where I sit in my green chair. I sit there & read for an hour or so every morning, maybe a few other stray hours throughout the day. I read & sometimes I write, but I also spend a lot of time just looking out the window. The most arresting – immediate? necessary? – thing a person can see out the window is the ruined trunk of an old tree. But it looks fresh, as if it was only just hacked into, the wood bright & pulpy & damp. I’ve never gone over for a closer look. Starting at the ground & then maybe four full feet up the trunk it looks as if it’s been torn apart, shredded. I suspect, these last few months, that all of my poetry has been about that tree, that trunk, the way it shines like an open wound, the way its machinery is exposed, the way the tree itself looks otherwise healthy, thriving despite this structural flaw.
Nate Pritts is the author of five books of poetry, most recently Sweet Nothing. A new chapbook, No Memorial, is forthcoming from THRUSH Press. He is the founder & principal editor of H_NGM_N, an online journal & small press. Find him online at www.natepritts.com.
Go Green and read a Nate Pritt’s Poem: http://darkskymagazine.com/magazines/nate-pritts/