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Four Reincarnations: Poems

4.27  ·  Rating details ·  405 ratings  ·  64 reviews
Published shortly after his death in August 2016 at age 25, Max Ritvo's collection of poetry is reverent and profane, entertaining and bruising. 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 rel
Hardcover, 79 pages
Published October 4th 2016 by Milkweed Editions
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Average rating 4.27  · 
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 ·  405 ratings  ·  64 reviews

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Oct 16, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Just like neurons fire into a mind,
part habit, part chaos,
so too the world's voices fire into a God.

Our chats are as important to God
as your thalamus is to you.
He can't risk us not
analyzing one another forever--
he might have a seizure.

-Max Ritvo, from "Poem in Which My Shrink Is a Little Boy"

Four Reincarnations is a highly philosophical book, largely concerned with metaphysical questions like: why does language exist? is there a God, and, if so, wha/>Four
Oct 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A strange, riotous, impossibly large masterpiece that dwells in the dark, funny, sprawling mess of paradox that is Life. Ritvo composed this book as his body was being taken by cancer and its existence--and excellence--is nothing short of miraculous. It puts me in mind of the Borges story "The Secret Miracle", which relates the story of a Jewish playwright sentenced to death by firing squad in Nazi Germany. The playwright, after reckoning with his impending demise, pleads with God for but one th ...more
B. Mason
Ritvo imagines the body in such a way that I felt a sense of dis-ease in my own skin. After reading "Touching the Floor" I cannot help but think of my own ambivalence to my embodied experience. It's a startling and beautiful collection.
Dec 02, 2016 rated it liked it
There were a few poems I really liked, and I appreciate Ritvo's humor and experimental spirit, but... most of these poems just didn't work for me. They were far too abstract, and I didn't feel like I was in on the joke, so to speak. It was just hard to understand the focus of this collection. That being said, Ritvo had a wonderful flair for language, and his death is definitely a loss to the literary world.
Nov 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poesy
from Afternoon

When I was about to die
My body lit up
Like when I leave my house
Without my wallet

What am I missing, I ask,
Patting my chest

And I am missing everything living
That won't come with me
Into this sunny afternoon
Jan 31, 2017 added it
Shelves: review
Read Samuel Dymerski's book review of Four Reincarnations: Poems:
Sheri Fresonke Harper
Four Reincarnations features poems that delve into the quality and meaning of life and live. Most are both sensual and thoughtful, examining a way of life that is sparse but loving. The end of the book features an essay from Max Ritvo, thanking the many people he's loved and how they influenced his art. They have an etched airiness that captures moments, dreams and emotion edited down to the meat.
Jul 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: i-own, milkweed
I absolutely love this book!! Max Ritvo's poems speak directly from his heart to the heart of the reader. This is a book to read and re-read and then read once again, like we do with listening to our favorite songs.
Jerrie (redwritinghood)
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
While I didn't like every poem in this collection, many of them were great. I am amazed that a young man dying of cancer could write without a lot of anger or cynicism and craft some beautiful poetry. The poems have a good sense of urgency, which you would expect in this case. He also seems to be able to recognize the beauty along with the ugliness in his life and has great acceptance of his impending death. I'm glad I picked this one up.
Dec 31, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
Four Reincarnations was published this year as Ritvo was dying from a rare disease that plagued him most of his short life. In the end he died just prior to its publication, with poems from this collection, his first, having appeared in The New Yorker, the Boston Review and Poetry. His student work, his academic studies, and appearances in magazines had built up a quiet fame—the kind of fame that is almost exclusive to the world of poetry but gets you the attention of people as diverse as Louise Gluck and Tom Waits, among others ...more
May 14, 2017 rated it it was amazing
The only hokey bits of this, Max Ritvo's first and only book, are in the back matter. First there is the absurd blurb on the back cover by Tom Waits — in verse, as if the fellow stays up at night thinking up new ways to be pretentious. Then there's the six-page acknowledgement section, which would be an embarrassment to any writer who didn't know he was dying and wanted to say everything he had to say in what little time he had. The section includes a shout-out to Waits and Nina Simone ("My time spent ...more
Avery Guess
Jan 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, 2018
The poems in Max Ritvo’s collection Four Reincarnations are filled with language that flickers brightly against what might otherwise be a dark subject—the cancer that ended up taking the poet. I was most entranced with Ritvo’s use of surprising similes, which had me in mind more than once of Larry Levis. In “The Senses,” “The sound of burning vegetables / is like a quiet, clean man folding sheets” and “my mind / like a black glove / you mistake for a man / in the middle of a blizzard.” And in “D ...more
Abeer Abdullah
Aug 16, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: america, poetry
Max Ritvo passed away last year after a long battle with cancer, only in his mid twenties. A painful constant attempt to derive meaning, beauty and love out of this ongoing ungraspable chaos that is human existence. It is a painful anatomy of what it means to be dying and to come to terms and give thanks. I am currently also reading James Baldwin's essays in which he describes the artist as one trying to create order and meaning out of the chaos haplessness of life. At one point in Max's poems h ...more
Jan 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Max Ritvo's moving collection of poems documents his life and experiences with cancer. The poems are at times abstract and confusing but it certainly felt real and true to his experiences. Ritvo is raw and honest. I left the collection moved and deeply saddened that Ritvo's bright voice won't be able to further contribute to the literary world.
Camila Uriona
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was an awesome book. Max Ritvo's poetry about his (lost) battle with cancer is deep, tinted with inevitable pain. It's not a poetry of pity or sadness, though. It's a poetry written with love, gratitude and a sensibility out of this world.

Amanda Moore
Oct 05, 2016 added it
Shelves: poetry
Urgent, raw, gorgeous--a first and a last book and a huge beating, thinking, suffering, loving heart. Worth it.
John Taylor
Aug 08, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Gorgeous book. Humorous, sharp, and darkly magical. And titles as organic and odd as James Wright. Read, also, the acknowledgements.
Brandon Amico
Oct 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Ian Mathers
Feb 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2017, poetry
Funnily ("funnily") enough, Anaïs got this out of the library and I read it a few months before my own, much less scary/deadly cancer diagnosis (I had an operation in January to remove three ribs and a tumour, and we're waiting for final pathology, but chances are extremely good that except for recovering from the surgery I am back to normal). I loved it, and my own cancer experience was different enough from Ritvo's that I'm glad I read it then, because while I don't think it would have made an ...more
Apr 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
"I thought my next thought would be a vision of my suffering;
I thought I would understand the yellow lightning in a painted storm--
the crucial way it disappears
when I imagine myself flung
headlong into the painting."

from "The Senses"
Chelsea Campbell
Oct 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Ritvo pulls readers into his heart-wrenching dreamscape and navigates them through the dizzying maze of loss, love, and a body in pain.
M. Gaffney
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Strange and beautiful.
Brett Cortelletti
Mar 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
"When I was about to die/my body lit up/like when I leave my house/without my wallet./What am I missing? I ask/patting my chest/pocket./and I am missing everything living/that won’t come with me/into this sunny afternoon" -Afternoon

This was a seriously impactful poetry collection. Heartbreaking sometimes, funny and sad without being cynical. These poems are easy to read and hard to forget. I chewed through this book in three sittings before lending it to a friend, but I definitely in
Feb 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
It's hard to separate these poems from the fact that they were written while Ritvo was dying of cancer at far too young an age. I that respect I feel that his talent will always remain mostly potential, unrealized.

There are some wonderful images

"When you weep, sorrow comes clean out"

"The man becomes a web
and his shadow becomes a spider"

but I felt in most cases the entirety of the poems did not live up to these gems.

But that is no
Jo O'Donnell
Mar 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
A moving collection of lean, wiry poems revolving around mortality from a young poet killed by cancer before it was published.
Feb 15, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, fun-lit, usa
This was a challenging book to start, and it felt kind of uneven to me--some poems really struck me and others kind of went over my head. The collection, written in the face of a dire cancer diagnosis, has some different tones--he's not all down or all contemplative about his lot in life. Instead, we get a range of emotions, from angry, to happy, to sad, etc.

A survivor myself, I had previously had trouble reading Claudia Emerson's collection about cancer treatment (Impossible Bottle) because he
Leigh Witzling
Nov 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Each poem left me confused and aching for more at the same time. The urgency underneath Max Ritvo’s words gives them a sort of movement that I don’t often get from other poetry. I couldn’t help but physically move my body in reaction to some of his stunning phrases.
Jan 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Max Ritvo, diagnosed with Ewing's Sarcoma, lived most of his short life under the cloud of cancer. Born in 1990, he died last summer in August 2016. He said of this work: "this is end-of-life stuff."
He was 25 when he stopped, writing three days before he died.
This is one of his poems:


When I was about to die
my body lit up
like when I leave my house
without my wallet.

What am I missing? I ask,
patting my chest

And I am m
Lauren Kayes
Aug 28, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'll likely have more thoughts after a second read, but this is a strange, uncomfortable, beautiful collection. Not all of it was to my taste, but it stuck with me regardless.

"I went to the bathroom to sleep.
I dreamt two dreams--one inside the other--
The outer dream, a shell,
the deeper dream, a yolk.

In the yolk dream I was a horse--the dream broke,
I awoke, and I saw you driving the dream, charioteer of my sleep.

Then the shell dream broke and I woke again,
Matthew Murawski
Mar 02, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, 2017, reviewed
It was good. Need to read it again to formulate deeper thoughts. The poems in the second half were stronger than the first I think. Understandably many poems about dying, but not very depressing or sentimental.
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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 Final Voicemails, edited and introduced by Louise Glück, and co-authored Letters from Max with Sarah Ruhl; both books were published posthumously. Ritvo's poetry has appeared in the New Yorker and Poetry, among many other publications.