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Coming Fall 2018: More Max Ritvo

Milkweed Staff — 02/15/2018

“Even the present tense has some grace of past tense
what with all the present tense left to go.”

—Max Ritvo, The Final Voicemails


Less than two years ago, Max Ritvo came into the Milkweed family like a ball of fire. One Friday in May 2016, we received an email from another poet in our family, Martha Collins, asking us to consider a manuscript by a young poet she admired, adding simply that there was some urgency—an illness had thrust this young man into what would become the final stage of his life. By Monday we were on the phone with Max and determined to publish the collection quickly, in hopes that he would be able to hold the collection in his hands. Four Reincarnations arrived from the printer just days after his death that August. This made us even more determined to do right by Max, to ensure not only that his work receive the kind of attention it so richly deserves, but also that his legacy live on with the fervor and boundless compassion that characterized his too-short life.

Since the publication of Four Reincarnations, we have had the great honor of launching the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, and of acquiring two additional Max Ritvo books, both of which will be published this September, and which we are delighted to share with you now.

LETTERS FROM MAX  is one of the most profoundly moving books to ever grace our list. Reminiscent of Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet and Words in Air, the correspondence of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell, Letters from Max is an extended conversation between Max and the playwright Sarah Ruhl (who was first his teacher, then became his colleague, friend and, finally, his student) about the nature of life and death. In these exchanges, all ideas—from reincarnation to the playfulness of postmodernism to good soup—are fair, nourishing game, shared and debated in the spirit of generosity, love, and friendship.

THE FINAL VOICEMAILS  brushes up against the pain, fear, and isolation that accompany a long illness, but with the daring of Max’s acrobatic mind and the full force of his unrelenting spirit. Edited by Louise Glück at Max’s request, the collection includes new poems and old poems in their original form: “the small adjustments seem to me interesting,” writes Glück in the collection’s introduction. “Cancer was Max’s tragedy; it was also, as he was canny enough to see, his opportunity. Poets who die at twenty-five do not commonly leave bodies of work so urgent, so daring, so supple, so desperately alive.”

We are profoundly grateful to all who have made it possible to share more Max Ritvo with the world. Most especially, our thanks go to Riva Ariella Ritvo-Slifka, Max’s mother; Victoria Ritvo, Max’s wife; Elizabeth Metzger, Max’s literary executor; Sarah Ruhl, and Louise Glück. As Max wrote repeatedly in the extended acknowledgments of Four Reincarnations: “Without you, there is no Max.”

We want everyone to have these books, and preorders begin today. Use discount code MAX to get both books for $45. (Shipping’s on us.)