Four Reincarnations
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Four Reincarnations : Poems

4.27 (209 ratings by Goodreads)
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Reverent and profane, entertaining and bruising, Four Reincarnations is a debut collection of poems that introduces an exciting new voice in American letters. When Max Ritvo was diagnosed with cancer at age sixteen, he became the chief war correspondent for his body. The poems of Four Reincarnations are dispatches from chemotherapy beds and hospitals and the loneliest spaces in the home. They are relentlessly embodied, communicating pain, violence, and loss. And yet they are also erotically, electrically attuned to possibility and desire, to "everything living / that won't come with me / into this sunny afternoon." Ritvo explores the prospect of death with singular sensitivity, but he is also a poet of life and of love--a cool-eyed assessor of mortality and a fervent champion for his body and its pleasures. Ritvo writes to his wife, ex--lovers, therapists, fathers, and one mother. He finds something to love and something to lose in everything: Listerine PocketPak breath strips, Indian mythology, wool hats. But in these poems--from the humans that animate him to the inanimate hospital machines that remind him of death--it's Ritvo's vulnerable, aching pitch of intimacy that establishes him as one of our finest young poets.show more

Product details

  • Hardback | 96 pages
  • 140 x 216 x 15.24mm | 241g
  • Milkweed Editions
  • Minneapolis, United States
  • English
  • 1571314903
  • 9781571314901
  • 354,966

Review quote

Praise for Four Reincarnations "This is an extraordinary body of work, the poems marked by intellectual bravado and verbal extravagance; Max Ritvo's dazzling suppleness of mind manifests itself in electric transitions and unexpected juxtapositions, in wide-ranging reference and baroque allusion. But what makes this book unforgettable is the core of intense emotion at the heart every poem. Max has been dealt a bleak but fertile subject: the result is not, as one might expect of an artist so young, a poetry of harsh autobiographical intimacy. What happens in these pages is an expansion, not a contraction; its result is an increased freedom and boldness and daring. The poems are alive with imperatives (as they must be when time is short), but urgency is everywhere conjoined with invention. When the poems do touch, directly and dramatically, on mortality, they are simultaneously candid and radically direct or brief, as in 'Second Dream': everything on the page is essential. Four Reincarnations is one of the most original and ambitious first books in my experience. Max Ritvo sounds like no one else--this is the rarest of all possible gifts and means that, at their best, these poems do things in the language that haven't been done." --Louise Gluck "A Max Ritvo poem is: A map drawn by hand to show where the body is buried. A card trick with words ... 'Don't show me how you did it.' Like reading the last sentence in a book first. Dragging words across the page like a bow across a string. A piece of candy covered with ants. Like silverfish ate the words off a page ... and left you a riddle. All of the above." --Tom Waits "In Four Reincarnations, Max Ritvo brings us along where poetry needs to go; away from the small confessional and into a big world of death, love, and metaphysics. While allowing for the possibility of a confessional mode in the details, Ritvo's poems take stock of the nineteenth-century sublime, adding the contemporary death of God, and going forward with bravery, irony, and the most compassionate sense of humor. The relationship he hews between language and the body is both original and hard won. His lyric complicity is between self, dedicatee, reader, and world. Ritvo's ear for language is beautiful, as is his spirit. His poems defy solipsism and enter a cosmology of unconditional love. How lucky I am that I found Max Ritvo and his poetry; he makes me love poetry again." --Sarah Ruhl "This is poetry written in the dark light of dying young. You feel the truth of this poetry too deeply to want to talk about it in your own words. You want to give it to other people still back here in health, to say to them, 'Here: the earthly gift of this poet of genius, Max Ritvo.' To Max himself, we might say what he says to his wife in one of these poems: 'Thou art me before I am myself.' In the sense, not of death, but of most ardent life." --Jean Valentine "If you could confect a numinous cauldron and stir into it the lumens of Christopher Smart's Spiritual Musick, the spirit-hounds of Hopkins' 'terrible crystals,' the hysteria of Monty Python's antics, the grace and depth of Keats's early wisdoms, you would render incarnate the first and final book of Max Ritvo's Four Reincarnations. The poems flicker like fireflies let loose from their captivity in a mason jar, fulgurating like Nobodaddy's business. Somehow, somewhere, Ritvo must have begun as an infant scholar, a prodigy, a young man of the rarest and most prescient gifts. This is a dazzling collection, rife with life, and with death, impending. This book, then, will be the afterlife. Ritvo's work is extracelestial, riddled with brilliance and with ecstasies. We are lucky to have this luminous collection in our world. It will go on. And then on." --Lucie Brock-Broido "Armed with intelligence, valor, audacity, and grace, Max Ritvo's imagination pushes back against one grim reality after another in its insistence on celebrating being embodied in the first place. No poet I can think of undertakes the transmutation of suffering into art with anything resembling Ritvo's wild theatricality, inclusiveness, and tonal range. Dizzying, out of proportion, poundingly felt, fantastical, fanatical, urgently constructed, confessional, gaudy, absurd, mystic, harrowing--the fact that Ritvo's work can be described in so many ways is testament to its complexity. The fact that we can never quite describe it in full is evidence of its irreplaceability. The fact that it haunts so many of its readers is proof that it has already become a necessary and sustaining part of us--some measure of our acquired wisdom, some portion of our vision of what it means to be alive." --Timothy Donnelly "Vital and unflinching poems that emerge from the unflagging energy of a mind embedded within, yet constantly struggling beyond, the suffering of his body. Ritvo's poems sizzle over the all-to-brief fire of his hungry and staggering imagination." --Publishers Weekly (Starred Revieiw) "By turns carnal and cerebral, prophetic and pragmatic, crude and contemplative, Ritvo's voice is a wildly imaginative and frenetic force." b>--Booklist (Starred Revieiw) "Seen as a leading poet of his generation, Ritvo was diagnosed with cancer in his teens and died in August at age 25. In breathtaking language, he chronicles not what it's like to be dying but what it's like to be living." --Library Journal (Starred Revieiw) "Ritvo has left behind a rich collection of poetry that emboldens us to bravely inhabit our bodies and to look toward the future." --Guernicashow more

About Max Ritvo

Max Ritvo (1990-2016) wrote Four Reincarnations in New York and Los Angeles over the course of a long battle with cancer. He was also the author of the chapbook AEONS, chosen by Jean Valentine to receive the Poetry Society of America Chapbook Fellowship in 2014. Ritvo's poetry has appeared in the New Yorker, Poetry, and the Boston Review, and as a Poem-a-Day for Poets.org. His prose and interviews have appeared in publications such as Lit Hub, Divedapper, Huffington Post, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.show more

Rating details

209 ratings
4.27 out of 5 stars
5 50% (104)
4 32% (66)
3 16% (33)
2 2% (4)
1 1% (2)
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