Remembering Max Ritvo

Authors / Watch & Listen

Remembering Max Ritvo

Milkweed Staff — 08/23/2017

A year ago today, Max Ritvo passed away after a long battle with cancer.

We had only met Max a few months earlier—first at AWP in Los Angeles, when he came running up to our booth during Justin Boening's first-ever book signing ("Justin Boening, sign my chest!" he yelled, shouldering his way through the crowd), and then more officially one Friday in May 2016, when we received the manuscript of Four Reincarnations. We acquired the book just three days later, and life at Milkweed was never the same again.

Today, we honor all Max offered the world—and all the world offered back in return. "Poetry is a game of compassion," he said, "and if you give people fun, their hearts will open to you." Max gave us fun, and more. Thank you to all who have shared and loved his words, to all who have kept the spirit of his life and work so fiercely present. As Max says repeatedly in the acknowledments of Four Reincarnations, "Without you, there is no Max."

Here are just a few of the most wonderful interviews and remembrances of Max available on the internet. Read them, and please share your favorites in the comments. 

Editor's Note: Many interviews with Max call themselves a "last" interview and a lot of press calls Four Reincarnations Max's first and last book. We're happy to say that none of these things are truly "last"—there's another book on the way, full of his correspondence with a long-time teacher and friend, the playwright Sarah Ruhl—and more of his poems continue to make their way into the world. Don't miss this brand new one, published in Parnassus yesterday.

Watch: "Poem to My Litter" animation | WNYC

"Poem to My Litter," originally published and recorded by the New Yorker. Produced by WNYC's Only Human.

    by Helen Vendler
    "The distinguishing quality of a Max Ritvo poem is a leap from the literal to the fanciful, from the pedestrian to the performative . . . . Although Max Ritvo is inimitable, his example is there for young poets wanting to forsake simple transgressive dailiness for the wilder country of the afflicted but dancing body and the devestated but joking mind."
    interviewed by Kaveh Akbar
    In which Kaveh coins the term "Ritvonian" and they talk Four Reincarnations, Buddhism, neurosis, empathy, poem titles, and so much more. "So much of joy is made worse by trying to make joy stay. And so much of suffering is made worse by trying to make suffering go away."
    interviewed by Mary Harris

    "Poetry is great at showing how a mind works. The way a bunch of different images will be clattering all around and suddenly braid together into a metaphor at the last minute. And if I can loan you the steps that my mind took, the little dance my mind did, maybe your mind will do it too at some point without me for thoughts that matter more to you."
    You can also listen to an excerpt from this interview on The New Yorker Radio Hour»
    interviewed by Justin Boening 

    "Humor isn't a shield, a repellant, it's almost a mnemonic device. It makes our sadness rhyme with joy."
    interviewed by Sarah Ruhl

    "All my spirituality asks of me is that I put myself in situations that feel holy. That take my breath away and make me go I can't believe something as beautiful as this is happening to me."
  • LOSING MAX RITVO  |  New Yorker
    by Lucie Brock-Broido

    "Max may well have been one of the most willful young poets I've ever worked with. He was in a hurry; he was dying, though he always carried with him the audacity of real hope."
  • REMEMBERING MAX RITVO, 1990–2016  |  berfrois
    with tributes from Victoria Ritvo, Sarah Blake, Dorothea Lasky, Elizabeth Metzger, Sarah Ruhl, Shon Arieh-Lerer, Kaveh Akbar, Justin Boening, Cynthia Zarin, Sarah Matthes, Kathleen Ossip, Victoria Ritvo Black, Frank Dato, Ariella Riva Ritvo-Slifka
    "Max made us feel and laugh and dance and jump. He was wild and free and loyal, coming to my aid a million times to cheer me on. Max made us feel that you were loved and the most special person on earth—that you were alive. Max made us feel." —Dorothea Lasky

We are deeply honored to have worked closely with Max, and to be able to continue bringing his work to wider audiences. Beginning this year, we are delighted to offer the Max Ritvo Poetry Prize, which awards $10,000 and publication by Milkweed Editions to the author of a debut collection of poems. Submissions for the inaugural prize close on August 31.

Watch: "Afternoon" animation | WNYC

"Afternoon" originally published by Boston Review. Recorded and produced by WNYC's Only Human.