Letters from Max, published by Milkweed, is an incredible expression of grace. The shared correspondence between Sarah Ruhl and Max Ritvo is a moving portrait of not just how writers sharing their work and lives with one another as a community of craft building, but also how the writers become the text for one another.
Max Ritvo, whose Last Voicemails we covered here, was a poet with a huge heart and a startling and daring turn of phrase, often his work is like reading only the best lines of poems you love. It’s just the illuminated path through the poem-woods to the meaning, nothing else in the confusing dark.
Sarah Ruhl, playwright, and apparently shy poet, begins her relationship with Max when he applies to join her playwriting course. Quickly the teacher/student dynamic falls away and Max’s illness returns. Soon, as friends, they exchange letters — and then poems, the first for Sarah “since you are a prime mover in the poem” is Listening, Speaking and Breathing:
Here I love the way the poem is so obviously for someone, directed in the declarations: “you are not silence”. Letters from Max is about being seen, or being read. There is powerful tenderness in the way these two writers read one another and become connected through their work by putting one another in it. There’s little better than being the addressed person in a poem, other than having the addressed poem read.
As such there is no conversation between two writers which is not collaboration. It’s a series of world building about soup and the afterlife, a little world bending with action — a spontaneous public reading, writing the themes of someone’s life into your play.
And that’s what it reminds us, that we are often looking at the world like hungry things looking for something to sustain us. Often we enter the world in search of a way to make something more than we had at sunrise. Here though we are treated to a guide to kindness. A guide to kindness that lets us see that the way to have more of yourself at the end of the day is to have spent it giving yourself away to others.
Max writes in a letter about a concept of the Good Max which lives and moves at the same time as him, in the same space, but is a little bigger, like an aura of a shell. And when he is good, he filled that space. He knew that all he had to do was to be good to others to be able to grow himself into Good Max, to become that person for the time of his goodness. I think this is the driving philosophy here, to be greater for what you give away.
Our Hannah has a book coming out. Full length and brimming of cleverly moving stories of absent people. I’ve read most of the stories in it and it’s ace.
This, by Henri Cole, turned up in The Paris Review:
This week’s song is Death by Made In Heights. I think it’s the breakbeat that does it for me.
Thanks for reading Etch To Their Own. I wrote to Sarah Ruhl to tell her how useful the book has been to me recently, reminding there are ways to be graceful. Somehow I think that letter was better than this one. More direct. I am a little run down and aching, but extremely happy for the good things happening around me. We’re approaching a funny time of year for me, and it creeps up despite being an unmoving date. I always wonder why I get deeply sad this time of year — or rather, just “why am I like this now?”, and then I remember where we are, and that is bad in itself. Still, the world is full of good things ripening all around me ❤