The Final Voicemails

Max Ritvo. Milkweed, $22 (96p) ISBN 978-1-57131-990-6
“Poets who die at twenty-five do not commonly leave bodies of work so urgent, so daring, so supple, so desperately alive,” writes Pulitzer Prize–winner Louise Glück in her editor’s note to this stunning and heartbreaking second posthumous collection from Ritvo (1990–2016). Glück has sifted through the work Ritvo left behind—finished and unfinished alike—to arrange a collection that displays the breathtaking talent and effortlessly surprising shifts that marked his first collection, Four Reincarnations, while also giving readers a glimpse into his creative process. Ritvo writes that “there is no pill to treat time,” and readers can palpably grasp that sensation in many of these poems, which were written up until his death from cancer. And it is perhaps because these poems have not been through the usual revision cycles that they feel so pressing and otherworldly. An abbreviated version of “Mammals,” Ritvo’s marvelous undergraduate thesis, is also included. Here, he writes, “Overhead, the green angels mutter,/ oppressed by the thin cliffs of our souls,/ mostly oppressing themselves.// I fix everything by dying, and you not dying.” These poems are raw and immediate, unflinching musings on the nature of the body, spirit, illness, and death: “When my heart stops, it will be the end of certain things,/ but not the end of things itself.” (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 08/20/2018
Genre: Fiction
Hardcover - 88 pages - 978-1-57131-511-3
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