Max Ritvo’s newest, and unfortunately only, body of work Four Reincarnations can and should be taken as the physical embodiment of Ritvo himself. Subdivided into four parts, each section capable of standing on its own—a kind of reincarnation—easily represents the young poet’s mind, spirit, soul, and heart. Emotion spills from these pages, and although Ritvo’s pain is tangible, readers can also find solace in the most unexpected places in his poetry. The same was true of Ritvo, who claimed that the day he was no longer able to write would be the day when it was his time to pass. In Poem To My Litter he writes, “Even my suffering is good, in part,” good because it allowed him to create beauty out of suffering. On August 22nd, 2016, Ritvo’s mother said her son was too weak to write poetry; he passed the next morning on August 23rd in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 25 after an arduous battle with Ewing’s sarcoma.
Not only are these poems a reincarnation of Ritvo, they are also representative of a lifelong struggle that extends far beyond his struggles with cancer. They grapple with what is often at the core of every person, an ongoing search for meaning and sense of belonging. The young poet treads uncertain ground with valor, both in his battle with cancer and in his ambitious writing. Having reached the physical limits of his body, with Four Reincarnations he turns to his mind where his time is not up yet. In the poem Black Bulls he addresses the reader directly and claims, “I am sorry that you have come to this mind of mine,” yet, it is my belief that no one who has ever read his poems is sorry to have been graced with such original and breathtaking compositions.
I think the beauty of his works lies in his own self-awareness—he is unabashedly public and vulnerable, traits that go a long way in managing poetry that has the ability to go from despair to humor in a matter of lines. It is also important that he is unafraid to speak directly to his audience and does not shy away from any topic. In To Randal, Crow-Stealer, Lord of The Greenhouse he even addresses himself. He writes:
I master the technology to make bricks.
I build altars clumped with fire.
I am not afraid to light
A flower and destroy her beauty;
The crispy flower has been taken to a godly feast.
Do you pity my imagination? It will kill you.
His imagery deeply appeals to the senses with scenes of a hungry fire and pure flower in the same stanza, both images coming together in a “godly feast”, much like all of his works. Reading Ritvo, unbeknownst of his personal history, is like an out-of-body experience. Definitely autobiographical, although not necessarily confessional, Ritvo tackles topics anywhere from love to life to loss to Listerine strips. He is unafraid to light a fire in all his readers and build an altar for himself in the world of poetry.
For the young poet, art was an unconditional love, and this collection shouldn’t be read solely as his last words despite the fact that they indisputably are. Shame (and by extension self-pity) is no longer an entity for him, which he makes very clear in this heartbreaking collection. When reading Four Reincarnations, it is my instruction to devour every word meticulously, and perhaps equally important is to make sure to also read the acknowledgments. They are as raw as his prose; a perfect and intensely personal send-off. Being an artist is in itself walking close to death, and of the many contemporary poets, there is none other that treads that line so finely as Max Ritvo. Even in defeat, there is solidarity and perseverance. Despite Ritvo’s death and the recent election results, there is still unwavering hope and strength and solace.
Our intern Lusi, who is currently studying Art History at Lewis & Clark, is back at it. Today she reviews Ben Lerner's The Hatred of Poetry (currently available in the shop).
"Ben Lerner’s most recent publication, The Hatred of Poetry, couldn’t have arrived at a more apt time. Language is intrinsic to everything -- our way of living, the way we communicate, how we express ourselves -- and the most fascinating thing language can provide us is growth. Language is never stagnant and often highly adaptable; the way we choose to interact with it is what determines its impact and whether or not its growth will continue. That is to say, language will always be changing; the question is, are we ready to change with it?
Something I have been grappling with recently is the accessibility of language, particularly within the art world, and Lerner hits on this tension in his book at length. It’s easy to ask what makes a good poem or what makes a bad poem, but the subjectivity of the answer can often skew that perception. In an interview with The Paris Review, Lerner is quoted, “I think some people I know hate what I consider really good poetry because they are really anxious about intelligibility.” It’s the same with most Modern art or Expressionist art and thinking -- “Well I could have done that/my kid could have done that!” Yet art, in all of its forms, has no definitive beginning or end, and “what does not change is the will to change.”
The tradition of poetry or poetic ambition is tricky, mostly out of fear of rejection (internal or external) and poetry is undoubtedly an experiment -- always has been and will always continue to be such. But poetry also contradicts itself; poets confront limits and explore dualities intrinsic to human nature. Ideally that should create an open dialogue between the author and the audience but it is most often that those cases are the least accessible because deriving understanding and catching implication is based on the experience of the individual. Whether garnering meaning and inclusivity is to be done through a matter of defeating language or propounding a new measure of value, where I come to question Lerner’s argument is that I fundamentally disagree that it can’t be done through poetry. In my experiences, It is too immersive of a craft to be so pigeonholed as constantly disappointing.
As powerful a medium as it is, Lerner maneuvers the intricate dualities of the poetic form with surprising ease and efficiency. The Hatred of Poetry is at once one of the strongest denunciations of poetry I have ever encountered, but also one of the greatest defenses capable of rivaling Sir Philip Sidney’s The Defense of Poesy. A highly recommended and insightful read, for those who have never read a page of poetry and for those who have devoted their lives to it alike.'
We were all having such a hard time saying goodbye to Christian Rogers' Read It and Weep, that Lusi, our intern from Lewis & Clark, wrote a short review of it. Thank you, Lusi!
"Shock factor can be presented in a multitude of ways, in terms of color, form, style, and text, and in his most recent work Read It and Weep, Christian Rogers uses those qualities to fully encapsulate that feeling. It is easy to find oneself treading the fine line between identity and visibility, both within the self and the other, particularly as an artist. That notion comes to the foreground when a work becomes inherently grounded with a personal mark, a gesture, or your identity as an individual and an artist. Rogers harnesses this in-between ground to create jarring and evocative pieces that challenge not only his own convictions, but those of his audience as well.
Considering the current societal and artistic state of hyper mediation and disinterest with personalization, Rogers’ choice to paint his works on ephemera, the fleeting, rosy pages of The Financial Times is astute. The choice of medium grounds the work with a specificity of time and place, making it easily accessible, much like the accessibility and abundance of newspapers everywhere. With his shift from a more formalist and abstract style, to this current figurative and narrative style, Rogers also creates deeply meaningful and intimate works.
The perspective in these pieces is rich, both in a literal sense—such as in Avocado Offering where the foreground is drastically shifted in relation to the background—but also in a more symbolic manner. It is the responsibility of the artist to create the art, and the responsibility of the audience to take it in, and it all boils down to a matter of how a piece is approached. It is interesting to relate something so metaphorical as perspective (think: your lens as an audience/artist/human being) to something so visceral as sight. Yet, it would be difficult to function without either, and Rogers, aware of this dichotomy, creates images that pack a punch: attractive, memorable, and connected with universal sentiments.
His work is more personal than universal in this particular series, yet it is still capable to subtly address little tid-bits of pop culture and current news, particularly considering the queer medium (read: the unconventional material and the non-heteronormative subject matter.) Even his smaller black and white collages offer a tasteful yet scandalous romp through the inner workings of Rogers’ creative process. And despite their absence of color and more apparent use of a mixed media technique, the pieces are equally bold.
Much like the offerings of fruit and other objects in some of Rogers’ pieces, this series is an eager offering to his audience—Read It and Weep is sexy, it’s unconventional, and it’s a hit."