“Speaking of Heaven: The Poetry and Presence of Max Ritvo”
For our October Narrative Medicine Rounds, we celebrate the work of the late poet Max Ritvo (1990-2016), whose acclaimed book of poems Four Reincarnations (Milkweed Edition, 2016) was written in New York and Los Angeles over the course of a long battle with cancer.
We use the word “presence” in the title of this very special rounds because the goal is to bring Max Ritvo into the room—not just through his poetry, but through his presence, so movingly captured in videos and audio recordings that allow him to read his own poetry for the audience.
Poet Lucie Brock-Broido will introduce the poet’s work, providing context and connecting the many facets of Ritvo’s work and world.
The idea of “presence” also comes into play because the essence of his poetry is a presence-ing, a bringing near and being present in spite of any journeying off and going far. He is a poet of exquisite embodiment, a fact that is crucial to his essence and especially relevant for Narrative Medicine, which concerns itself with the power of the embodied presence, in spite of illness and even in the face of death.
In a review of Four Reincarnations, critic Helen Vendler said, “The distinguishing quality of a Max Ritvo poem is a leap from the literal to the fanciful, from the pedestrian to the performative. The leap ratifies itself in the success of the poem.” Ritvo’s poetry and presence are death-defying, as expressed in Ritvo’s own words:
“Let room mean death or room mean life,
but let the room always be full.”
Max Ritvo was also the author of the chapbook AEONS, chosen by Jean Valentine to receive the Poetry Society of American Chapbook Fellowship in 2014. Ritvo’s poetry has appeared in the 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, Huffington Post, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Three of his poems will appear in the next issue of Parnassus; A Public Space has one of his poems in a forthcoming issue as well. Milkweed Editions has announced the 2018 publication of Letters from Max, a book of his correspondence with playwright Sarah Ruhl, a two-time Pulitzer Prize finalist.
Lucie Brock-Broido is a poet, whose most recent book of poems, Stay, Illusion (Alfred A. Knopf), was a Finalist in Poetry for the 2013 National Book Award, 2013 National Book Critics Circle Award, and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Her previous collections include Trouble in Mind, The Master Letters, and A Hunger. Her poems have appeared in The Paris Review, The New York Times, Parnassus: Poetry in Review, The American Poetry Review, Poetry, The Nation, The New Republic, Best American Poetry, and The New Yorker. Brock-Broido has been the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship and two National Endowment for the Arts Awards. She is Director of Poetry in the School of the Arts at Columbia University.