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Rest in Peace, Max Joseph Ritvo (1990–2016)
The generous, loving, funny, thoughtful, brilliant poet and person Max Joseph Ritvo died on August 23, 2016, after a long battle with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare pediatric cancer. We here at Harriet and the Poetry Foundation are deeply saddened by the news, and our hearts go out to his friends, family, and loved ones. “Max left us too young,” his family writes in the obit at the New York Times.
Devastated, we are left with a permanent vacancy in our hearts and an unimaginable life without Max. It is said that some people are larger than life, but Max truly was, and we take forward the many life lessons we have learned from him. We hope to continue his legacy. To live as he did, to make time have meaning as he did, is the wish of all of us who loved him.
One Friday afternoon this past May, I received an email from Martha Collins. She asked me to consider a manuscript by a young poet named Max Ritvo. Jean Valentine had selected his work for a chapbook competition, Martha explained, and Lucie Brock-Broido had selected some of the poems in the manuscript for publication in the Boston Review. Martha added only that there was some urgency, as an illness had thrust this young man into what would become the final stage of his life.
I read the manuscript over the following weekend, and I was completely transfixed. It is not easy to describe Max Ritvo’s poetry adequately. Along with the intelligence, the music, the beautiful lines, there is a profoundly boundless energy at work. And yet this boundlessness confronts throughout a real, concrete grasp of the finite nature of life. I had never encountered such a rapprochement of ecstasy and pain, of beauty and dread. Put simply, reading Four Reincarnations for the first time, I had an overwhelming sense of awe and admiration—an initial sense that has only deepened…
Max was a contributor to the September issue of Poetry. You can also read some of his poems at The New Yorker, Berfrois, and Boston Review; and recent interviews with Max are at Divedapper and WNYC. From Max’s conversation with Kaveh Akbar:
Everybody dies with loose ends. You can be ninety, you can be twenty-five. These are my particular loose ends. And it’s been very very comforting not to really try to do anything other than do today. I want to do this interview with you today. I’m not trying to think about whether I’m going to be well enough to edit it. Whether I’m ever going to see it in the world. What happens to me is just the next step. It’s been immensely liberating to realize so much of joy is made worse by trying to make joy stay. And so much of suffering is made worse by trying to make suffering go away. When you’re just comfortable allowing whatever sensations are there to be there, allowing the paths whatever their paths, that is healing…