Four Reincarnations

Published shortly after his death at age 25, Max Ritvo's collection of poetry, Four Reincarnations, is a sobering yet joyful examination of life and its unraveling. Ritvo battled cancer for nearly 10 years, and he breathes in the full tragedy and routine nature of death simultaneously: "The new day is slid underneath/ the old days:/ the clouds can hear only themselves." He has an astounding ability to wring varied emotions, physical sensations and ambiguities out of each poem. They scramble the senses by painting sprightly, synesthetic landscapes: "The sound of burning vegetables/ is like a quiet, clean man folding sheets." He twists joy and sadness around one another until the reader can't distinguish between the two and quietly experiences both. Ritvo wrestles with the mutability of memory and the subjectivity of time. In "Afternoon," he visualizes his own death as both inevitable and already having happened. In "Plush Bunny," he pictures his small future stored in the same shoebox where he kept a stuffed animal he'd outgrown as a child.

As the poetry community grieves Ritvo's death and celebrates his work, it's clear that the poet has already begun to reincarnate. One can only hope that his leaping imagination and clear-eyed psyche will reach widely into the living world. Ritvo dispenses bleak perspective and a generosity of spirit throughout Four Reincarnations, making this a collection to be savored and held close. As he writes in "The Watercolor Eulogy": "I know this isn't the heaven we wanted./ What ever is?" --Richael Best, bookseller, Elliott Bay Book Company, Seattle, Wash.

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