Afternoon-Nate Milton-Max Ritvo-USA

In “Letters from Max”, Sarah Ruhl refers to Virginia Woolf’s idea of “the voice answering the voice” and applies it to Max: “For most poets, the voice answering the voice is an internal dialogue. Max had the gift of an internal voice, and also the gift of answering back to so many other poets.” As I was one of the poets lucky enough to be answered by Max, I wanted to compile and share a playlist of ten of the poems I most answer to from “Four Reincarnations” and “The Final Voicemails”. I also wanted to include (in Part II, forthcoming) an accompanying playlist of poems Max answered to—the poems of his mentors and masters—as these were not only the poems that colored his voice but also the poems he offered me and many of his poet-peers for inspiration or solace, challenge or solidarity. The second list directly and indirectly shapes the first. The poems I’ve selected from “Four Reincarnations” are love poems from the border between life and death—spiritual, erotic, sage, and sometimes child-wise. The poems I’ve selected from “The Final Voicemails” have the new dark of first waking in the middle of the night—the poems are woken in the middle of a body that is disappearing and they are written with the gift of unfinishedness. As the playlist goes on, the speaker finds paternal affection for lab mice that are injected with his cancer, romance becomes a metaphysical transaction, time becomes a mode of empathy, doctors and patient reverse roles in a hilarious cringeworthy gymnastics, and the body hungers only for itself.

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