The Final Voicemails
“Even present tense has some of the grace of past tense, / what with all the present tense left to go.” From Max Ritvo—selected and edited by Louise Glück—comes a final collection of poems fully inscribed with the daring of his acrobatic mind and the force of his unrelenting spirit.
Diagnosed with terminal cancer at sixteen, Ritvo spent the next decade of his life pursuing poetry with frenetic energy, culminating in the publication of Four Reincarnations. As with his debut, The Final Voicemails brushes up against the pain, fear, and isolation that accompany a long illness, but with all the creative force of an artist in full command of his craft and the teeming affection of a human utterly in love with the world.
The representation of the end of life resists simplicity here. It is physical decay, but it is also tedium. It is alchemy, “the breaking apart, / the replacement of who, when, how, and where, / with what.” It is an antagonist—and it is a part of the self. Ritvo’s poems ring with considered reflection about the enduring final question, while suggesting—in their vibrancy and their humor—that death is not merely an end.
The Final Voicemails is an ecstatic, hopeful, painful—and completely breathtaking—second collection.
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Praise and Prizes
“Max Ritvo sounds like no one else—this is the rarest of all possible gifts.”
“The Final Voicemails is pressing, pressurized, and prescient beyond both its years and its words. These poems retell a life filled with pains and joys that are so intense they should almost be wordless, were they not performed here with Max Ritvo’s immeasurable talent for articulating the piercing moments of life that so clearly demonstrate transcendence. Ritvo was a genius. He understood what poetry was meant to do in all its greatest moments and then pushed it to go just a little bit farther. Hundreds of years from now, we will still be talking about this book’s unbearable truths, and its unbearable feats.”
“Since Max Ritvo’s passing, I’ve heard critics compare him to Wallace Stevens, Rainer Maria Rilke, John Keats, and countless others. Of course, Max wasn’t any of them exactly, but it’s astonishing that one inscrutable young poet could evoke comparison with such titans while still remaining so enchantingly himself. In The Final Voicemails, we see Ritvo at his most imaginative—clouds are worn as wigs, meat is cut into a braid of arrows, a carpenter nails brains to the side of a lung. The effect is wild, incantatory. You’ll find yourself beaming with your whole heart, even as Ritvo breaks it again and again.”