Among its many meanings as defined by the O.E.D., to sunder means to be torn, broken, or cut into pieces; to split open, or break apart. Patrick Pritchett’s powerful new collection of poems, Sunderland, embarks on a journey that navigates the real properties of place and locale (the real Sunderland, MA, is the eponymous staging ground for this work) and the inchoate, irresolvable conjectures of self and place as transitory and interlinked sites of breakage, separation, dissolution, and loss. In a book that wears its grief for the recently dead openly and poignantly, Sunderland navigates the world’s brokenness and our intricate relation to earthly patterns with resolute grace and elegiac awareness of the temporary state in which we exist: “I belong to this road / To this infinite nothing / curling up like a mist in the bright / blue air of spring.” Poised as serial segments of an ongoing biography of subjectivity and the evanescence of experience, Pritchett’s poems manage a level of lyric statement that recalls both Rilke’s Duino Elegies and the late poems of Robert Creeley, as the author asks, “May I ruin the poem’s / promise with the promise / of another poem / the yet-to-come / forever shining / nickel sweet beyond / horizon’s oblivion.” Written under the sign of COVID and the attendant global violences related to a pandemic, Sunderland meditates in ardent, necessary, and ethical ways on the “real wonder of the world in its ruin.” Both a work of daily apprehension and one sundered from topical realities, Pritchett’s work here is invested in poetry’s requisite and long-historied demand, asking us “to undergo lyric / as though it were a curse.” Every page of this magnificent book radiates from this site of providential awareness, of “What is empty. / What is returning.” Outside Sunderland’s gates, Sunderland offers itself as prayer and artifact for a world always and never ending.
Andrew Mossin, author of Black Trees
Patrick Pritchett’s extraordinary Sunderland is The Waste Land for our times. Haunted by the angel of dead-end times in a sundered land, Pritchett’s poems stun and sear with a poignant ferocity as they meditate on the earth, love, loss, grief, despair, prayer, the pandemic, and the poem as after-life. A century after Eliot’s final “shantih,” Pritchett writes, “The end of time is always/now / & now/& now. / Holy entropic. Endlessly viral.” We know “how the accidents which claim us remake us.” We know that “meaning” signs in as a “self-erasing wave. / This is simply to live, friends.” The reader journeys into a dark night of the soul, like stars “bright in their dying / inside sweet folds of plasma / inside the great fires of the void.” We ourselves are carbon-based forms made of interstellar stardust. To say, then, “the word for soul is void” does not romanticize despair but invokes pure consciousness, emptied mind as spiritual space. In Sunderland one communes with “the face on the Zoom square / so far away but once / you almost kissed.” The poem, “knotted in / the wreckage / of prayer,” is “radiant with the confusion of hope.” Pritchett’s unforgettable book is “[s]helter for the falling of our lives through this age.”
Heather H. Thomas, author of Vortex Street
Patrick Pritchett is the author of Burn, Lives of the Poets, Antiphonal, and Salt, My Love. He serves on the advisory editorial board of Journal of Modern Literature and is a Lecturer in the History and Literature Program at Harvard University and Visiting Lecturer in Poetry at Amherst College.