Four Reincarnations

Max Ritvo. Milkweed (PGW, dist.), $24 (96p) ISBN 978-1-57131-490-1
Slippery and terrifyingly urgent, funny yet despairingly so, Ritvo (1990–2016) hits all the right notes in an accomplished, surprising, and bizarrely erotic debut made more poignant by his death weeks before publication. Diagnosed with terminal cancer at 22, Ritvo produced vital and unflinching poems that emerge from the unflagging energy of a mind embedded within, yet constantly struggling beyond, the suffering of his body. His mind, he says, is “like a black glove/ you mistake for a man/ in the middle of a blizzard.” Alarming imagery, paired with supple and electric turns of logic and sound, define the collection: “I’m told to set myself goals. But my mind/ doesn’t work that way. I, instead, have wishes// for myself. Wishes aren’t afraid/ to take on their own color and life—/ like a boy who takes a razor from a high cabinet/ puffs out his cheeks and strips them bloody.” In his poem “The End,” Ritvo muses whether “death just meant spending/ all your time with your past.// The more there is, the more loss there is—/ true not only of the world, but of perceiving it,/ even the imagination sizzling on top of it.” Ritvo’s poems sizzle over the all-too-brief fire of his hungry and staggering imagination. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/19/2016
Release date: 10/01/2016
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