David Grundy: 'mistish liftings'

N. H. Pritchard manuscript notes

East Village Other, from Pritchard, “The Vein,” 1968

Thanks to David Grundy for this Pritchard update:

After years of neglect, 2021 was an auspicious year for the work of N. H(Norman) Pritchard II,  with the long-awaited reprinting of his two published volumes, The Matrix: Poems 1960–1970 and EECCHHOOEES by Ugly Duckling Presse/Primary Information and DABA Press respectively. In July, Jacket2 published a 1978 interview with Pritchard conducted by Judd Tully, providing an acute insight into Pritchard’s philosophy, and a far more detailed biographical picture than has been previously available. Nonetheless, there are still many gaps to fill in. In particular, Pritchard’s extensive writings and visual artworks remain unpublished. The following note provides a brief outline of these writings based on available evidence in the hope of contributing to our ongoing sense of Pritchard’s legacy. A forthcoming article will expand on some of this in more detail.

Pritchard’s extensive correspondence with Ishmael Reed, available in the Ishmael Reed Papers (1964–1995), Special Collections, University of Delaware Library, Newark, Delaware, provides further details as to these unpublished projects. As the correspondence indicates, during the late 1960s, Pritchard worked on several book-length manuscripts, including two novels, two books of poems and a collaboration with a photographer (Pritchard to Reed, December 15, 1967).

In October 1967, he completed a first draft of his text Mundus: “an allegorical romance, a poem in prose form” (Pritchard to Reed, October 23, 1967). Dressed as a preacher, Pritchard recites excerpts from this text in Washington Square Park in Elaine Summers’s and Reverend Al Carmines’s experimental 1968 film Another Pilgrim, and an edited excerpt appeared as a “self-contained prose poem,” entitled “The Vein” in The East Village Other in 1968. Pritchard’s letters indicate that he sent the manuscript to Grove Press, who rejected it; he also sent a copy to Samuel Beckett in Paris (Pritchard to Reed, May 11, 1968; December 15, 1967; January 21, 1968; February 19, 1968).

Following the rejection of Mundus, Pritchard discussed a collection entitled, Ignis: Poems ’57–67 (May 11, 1968). This was likely an early version of The Matrix: Poems 1960–1970. In a letter of August 1971 following the publication of The Matrix and just prior to the publication of EECCHHOOEESS, Pritchard includes poems “from my third book of poems which I call Spheres.” 

In letters of 1970 and 1971, Pritchard also mentions a manuscript entitled Origins: A Contribution to the Monophysiticy of Form, and subsequently, Origins: An Anthology of Transreal Writing (Pritchard to Reed, June 2, 1970; August 23, 1971). Further, undated notes for the Transreal Anthology list potential participants ranging from Bruce Andrews and Clark Coolidge through to Amiri Baraka, Ginsberg, and Richard Brautigan. Ultimately, Pritchard hosted a large event, “The End of Intelligent Writing: A Transreal Awakening,” in 1972, and a reading series, “Origins: A living anthology of Transreal expression” at the New School the following year. The thirty participants in the “Transreal Awakening” included artists Aldo Tambellini and Vito Acconci, poets Diane Wakowski and Fielding Dawson, and bassist David Izenzon, best known for his association with Ornette Coleman. It should be noted here The End of Intelligent Writing: Literary Politics in America is also the title to a 1974 book by Richard Kostelanetz, listed as a participant in Pritchard’s event. Though the book contains a brief discussion of Pritchard’s work, it does not indicate whether the phrase originated with Pritchard or with Kostelanetz himself. The reading series “Origins: a living anthology of Transreal expression” took place at the New School between March and December 1973. The readers were W. Bliem Kern; Bill Komodore; Peggy Garrison, Allen Katzman (March); Spencer Holst, Robert Hazel, Daniela Gioseffi (April); Jack Micheline, Jean Ambuter, Sarah Dickinson, Tom Pesce (May); Kern and Rochelle Ratner (June); Giosofei and Richard Kostelantez, Kern and Hazel Giarrons, C. W. Truesdale, Nancy Scott (October), Holst, Katzman, Ratner (November), Allen Planz, John Harriman (December). 

In 1978, Pritchard worked at the Institute of Rehabilitation Medicine at the NYU Medical Center, offering poetry reading and discussions to outpatients aged between 25 and 65 at the Department of Continuing Therapy and working with children aged 5 to 15, some of whom were unable to speak or write. In 1978 and 1979 he also residency at the Saint Louis Senior Citizen Center, where he edited a newsletter, holding “rap sessions with the seniors” (Pritchard to Madeleine Keller [CETA Artists Project], Friday, September 15, 1978). A CETA report describes him as a “true poet and teacher [who] brings the spirit of love and creativity to all his teaching situations” (Madeleine Keller, Artist Performance Appraisal Report on N. H. Pritchard). During this time, as he indicates in the interview with Judd Tully, Pritchard was working on at least three major book-length projects:

1)     An anthology constituting “a large cultural history of America in the 20th century,” beginning with a piece on the assassination of William McKinley in 1901 and ending with a piece by Buckminster Fuller’s “The Future,” and juxtaposing history, fiction, and poetry.

2)     A manuscript on which he had begun working in 1977 provisionally entitled Sequels, which he describes as “a particular form [...] one through 100, five on a page.” Pritchard reads several poems from the manuscript during the interview. This may well be an early version of the project he worked on while at CETA. CETA documentation from 1978 describes a manuscript project called Quartet: “four extended poems [entitled “Suns,” “Names,” “Spheres,” and “Oracles”], each of which is twenty-four pages in length containing approximately one hundred movements” (Pritchard to Madeleine Keller [CETA Artists Project], Friday, September 15, 1978). CETA documents also mention a later version of the project entitled Trio: “three extended poems [“Dreams” (originally entitled “Spheres”), “Nudes” (originally entitled “Names”) and “Visitations”], each of which is approximately 25 pages in length, and contains approximately 20 to 25 stanzas with 4 to 6 movements” (Undated CETA document).

3).     A prose work which Pritchard describes to Tully as: “the most interesting to me in my creative writing [...] You could call it prose poetry. You could call it short stories, but the fact is that it’s a prose line, the line does not stop [...] you carry that on 150 pages, you have a novel.” Pritchard may be referring here to an unpublished, autobiographical collection entitled Memoirs which contains reminiscences of his time in Umbra and on the New York arts scene in the late 1950s an early 1960s.

Having read as part of the 12th International Sound Poetry Festival, sponsored by The New Wilderness Foundation, at the Washington Square Church alongside Charles Armikhanian, Bob Holman, John Beaulieu, and Paula Clare, in April 1980, Pritchard spoke on his concept of Transrealism at the New Arts Program, Kutztown Arts Center in 1981. These appear to be his last documented public appearances, and it is so far unknown if Pritchard produced further work in succeeding years. Remarrying and moving to Pennsylvania, Pritchard passed away in 1996. 

And for the archive: Pritchard’s part of a feature called “Black Youth” from EYE Magazine, March 1968: 95: pdf.

Many thanks to Paul Stephens, Charles Bernstein, and Ian Russell for providing information included in this piece.