Max Ritvo: Mentors & Masters (Part II)

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" (in Part I, previously). I also wanted to include 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. This second list directly and indirectly shapes the first. Among the voices that influenced Max: the gnomes of Dickinson, the love poems of Jack Gilbert, the playful F-U music of Franz Wright, the blur of allusion and personal narrative in his teacher (and the editor of TFV) Louise Gluck’s Meadowlands, the idea of “the first draft of humanity” in Nathaniel Mackey’s Splay Anthem, the go-for-broke rhythm of Wallace Stevens’ thinking, Timothy Donnelly’s zesty intelligence in a sip of anything, the scrimshawed suffering of Lucie Brock-Broido’s animals, Dottie’s primordial drive for the all-colors of survival, the wicked self-analysis of Berryman’s Dream Songs.

Drab Habitation of Whom?

Drab Habitation of Whom?
Tabernacle or Tomb —
Or Dome of Worm —
Or Porch of Gnome —
Or some Elf's Catacomb?


Their bloodlust is what made them different from me

I saw the man with an albino moose
Holding his antlers with pride
In the photo
By your bedside

And all I could think of
Was how scared the dead moose must have been

Now when I try to eat an animal, I hear crying
Not laughter
Now when I try to sing,
I do not
Instead I walk along
And everyone on the earth is an enemy
I have no confidante, no squire

All of it is because
Of how badly you lied to me

I thought it was just you and me
Or at the very least a tiny epigram

Madness is eating animals
l am mad
But I don’t kill anything
I sit there bloodless
And my lust, too
It rings

Song of the Andoumboulou: 60

  The vote came in early. We ignored
   it. No ballout-box auction for us...
Nub’s uninstructed dance’s bare
     feet, music we took them for.
                                                           At a
 loss with only bodies to fend with,
  nonsonant waves kept coming,
sang without wind,        saltless,
     waterless,         Nub’s inverted
 run, Nub newly vented by horns
   elsewhere, bells full of insect
     husks... Nonsonant scruff held
 on to, sheerness... Nothingness
   it seemed we grabbed at, gathered,
beginning to be unending it seemed.
   were beginning to be lured again,
ready to be hectored, huthered, move
  on, beginning to be uprooted again...

   A peppered expanse the country we
crossed. Space doled out so stingily
      we wept, love’s numb extremity
  the outskirts of Nuh, name whose
     we embraced... A tale told many
times over, known before it reached
       us, known before we knew, un-
     backed alley of soul we wandered
       shadowbox romance it was called...
    Come of late to creation’s outskirts,
  rub’s new muse a republic of none, a
       yet-to-be band the band we were...
     We were Andoumboulou, dreamt
      habitants of “mu,” moored but
 immersed, real but made up, so much
     farther flung than we’d have thought...
    They the would-be we lay on a bed
  the size of Outlandish. Lip attesting
        lip, tongue rummaging tongue,
      between finger and thumb the hem
    of her dress, flat bead of sweat, salted
       A hammer hit them each on the head.
     Hammered heads rang and rang without
  end...       Called it creation, called it
   their clime, close where there was otherwise
       distance,       mute endearment,        recondite
     embrace... So much farther, felt even
mouth she remembered, home. His to hear
     her tell it, hers were it his to say, whose
   book was of lengthening limbs, hers of
 unquenchable kiss... A tale told over and
    long since known by heart. Lay belly to
  back, turned belly to belly, each the other’s
dreamt accompanist, music they made in
 their sleep... Frayed hem the interstice,
    moot rule. Time’s moot rule amended,
  advance it was
also called


    A first unfallen church of what might've
  been. Let run its course it would have 
      gone otherwise, time's ulterior bequest... 
This they had a way of imagining,
    they so wished it to be. Abstract he 
      at the back of her mind, she at the 
   back of his, each the other's Nub 
       constituent, ghost of an alternative

  They were we before we were, ancestral,

     who'd never not be ill at ease. A vocation 
   for lack he'd have said, she'd have said 
longing, a world, were they to speak, be-
  tween... What wasn't, they'd have said,
        away, would come back, first fanatic
     what would


    They the would-be we talking talk of
election, devotees of Iemanjá. Glass-
  green water they were in up to
     shoulders, each the other's moored
recess... The way she said his name stayed
   with him. More made of what wasn't
     there than what was, whispered,
back again... Love called out from side-
     walk to balcony, rooftop to galaxy,
    More made of what was there than
      was there, mouths vow-heavy at
   bed's edge, lip-touch never to be done.
Never to get up again it seemed, lay
      endlessy commemorative advent,
     evanescent caress... A first unfallen
        church it might have been. Let
   run its course it would have gone
     otherwise, time's ulterior bequest...
This they had a way of imagining,
   they so wished it to be. Abstract he
     at the back of her mind, she at the
 back of his, each the other's Nub
      constituent, ghost of an alternative
 They were we before we were, ancestral,
    who'd never not be ill at ease. A vocation
  for lack he'd have said, she'd have said
longing, a world, were they to speak, be-
    tween... What wasn't, we'd have said,
         away, would come back, first afflicted
     what would be... We were caught in a
   dream whispering names we'd forget
     waking up, caught waking up or in a
dream of waking up, moot sound riffling
          our lips. Nub was a name,        was
    a name,           a was a name, all moving
 on... Names came after us, roused us in
    our sleep, the ballot-box opening grinned
and grinned again, gone we'd have been
        we have run... It wasn't we were stuck,
      stood frozen, transfixed, Paralytic Dream #12...
   It was waking known otherwise put running
    out of reach, nonsonance's waterless waves held
      us up, more than we could sense but
   even so, nonsonance's


      Day late so all the old attunements gave
   way, late but soon come even so... A
     political trek we'd have said it was
albeit politics kept us at bay,         nothing
       politics we'd say. Wanting our want to
    be called otherwise, kept at bay though
     we were, day late but all the old stories
  yet again, old but even so soon come... A
    mystic march they'd have said it was,
      acknowledging politics kept us at
  bay,        everything was mystical
they'd say. Wanting our want to be
      named, kept at bay as we were,
        the matter was wasn't a question, no
   tion what
it was


      Nub no longer stood but lay and we
   lay with it, earth-sway cradling our
     backs. What the matter was rocked
us, a way we had with dirt, awaiting
        already might have been there... Dust...
     Abducted future... Dearth Lake's dry
         largesse... Dread Lakes' aliases, alibis,
     Lake also there... Where we were rubbed
         earth in our faces, a feeling we had
             for debris. Nub, no longer standing,
           filled the air, an exact powder, fell
        we ran thru it, earth-sway swaddling
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Diet Mountain Dew

I have built my ship of death
and when a wind kicks up
I’ll cut it loose to do its thing
across an unnamed lake of you,
a firefly sent pulsing through
the non-stop estivation of
the verses of our South, who in
its larval phase would feast
on bitter worms and snails, who
emerges from its mud chamber
our planet’s most efficient
luminescence, who turns
chemical energy into radiant
energy shedding very little heat,
so will I sail the compass of
you pleased with my cold light.

I have built my ship of death
aglow in sturdy chemicals
and powered up at night like
American Express, I’m all
customer service only minus
the customer, no service to speak
of other than death, you will
know my logo by its absence
and slogan from the past
ad for the sugared style of you
on TV in my youth, it goes
like this: “When my thirst
is at its worst . . .” and then I
let it trail off into the unsayable
or is it just unsaid because
my mouth is full of you again.

A green like no other green
in the dale, indelicate green or
green indecent, surpassing
the fern and sprout and April’s
optimistic leaflet some stop
to admire in nature, they take
photographs noncognizant
of other vehicles, you are too
green for pasture, you are
my green oncoming vehicle,
usurper of green, assassin
to the grasshopper and its plan,
I put me in your path which is
the path a planet takes when it
means to destroy another I think
you know I’m O.K. with that.

A green like no other green
resplending in production since
1940 when brothers Barney
and Ally Hartman cooked it up
in Tennessee qua private
mixer named after moonshine,
its formula then revised by
Bill Bridgforth of the Tri-City
Beverage Corp. in 1958, year
Linwood Burton, chemically
inclined entrepreneur and ship
cleaning service owner, sold
his formula for a relatively safe
maritime solvent to Procter
& Gamble of Ohio, who went on
to market it under the name

of Mr. Clean, whose green
approaches yours then at the
last second swerves into
a joke yellow plays on green
to make blue jealous till it
blows up in its face but I can’t
not love the smell of it, citrus
reimagined by an extra-
terrestrial lizard which is to say
inhuman in the way you say
inhuman to me, a compliment
unravelled in the drawl: “Hey
you, over there, you look
so unaccustomed to temporality
I would’ve sworn you were
inhuman,” and time for it after

time I fall, further evidence
of my humanity: I am at heart
no less susceptible to rot
than the felt hat on the head
of the rifle-toting barefoot
hillbilly, your mascot until he
disappeared in 1969. Instinct
says he must have shot his
self in the woods in the mouth
one sunrise when a frost
was at hand and the apples
fell thick and he was way
too awake when he did so not to
think there would be another
waiting like a can of you in
the 12-pack in my refrigerator.

I have built my ship of death
and enough already, every
toxic sip of you preparing for
the journey to bloviation:
I leave to return and return
to depart again the stronger
for a satisfaction being bound
to no port has afforded me:
I have built my ship of death
so that even when I crawl
back down into the hold of it
alive as what unnaturalness
in you can keep me, it’s only
to emerge from the other
end of it intact, and perfectly
prepared to be your grasshopper.

The Man with the Blue Guitar, Part I

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.

They said, "You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are."

The man replied, "Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar."

And they said then, "But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are."