Wednesday, July 9, 2008

THOMAS M. DISCH R.I.P.

I’ve already written this post once, but it got lost in the wonderful world of the internet. So here’s goes an attempt to rewrite at least the gist of the post.

First of all, Tom Disch has died. He killed himself, as I heard it. After a string of life changing tragedies, including the loss of the love of his life to illness, his house to a natural catastrophe (I don’t remember if it was fire or flood, but whatever it was it took whatever he was currently working on with it), and his own illness.

He was best known as a science fiction writer, one of “the new wave” in that genre. But his most popular book was actually a children’s book about a toaster.

I knew him though, as a poet. The few times I ran into him, he was always generous of spirit and praise for the writing of others (mine included) and a little mischievous in his pronouncements about politics and society etc.

In fact, I remember him with a glint in his eye, as he signed and gave me a collection of poems called ORDERS OF THE RETINA (and drew an eye with a glowing sunlike retina above his signature).

It was published in 1982 by Allan Kornblum’s first publishing venture THE TOOTHPASTE PRESS, before he started COFFEE HOUSE PRESS.

I didn’t like all of Tom’s poetry, but I really like some of it a lot and thought one of my favorite poems of his from that collection might serve very well as his epitaph:

WHAT IT WAS LIKE

Like a wine that burns the tongue
And leaves it thirstier, like glimpses
Into lit interiors from the windows
Of slow-moving trains, like rain
On pavements when the sky is clear,
Like isolated lines of verse
Reverberating in the mind,
Like figures in disturbing dreams
Condensed by waking to an article
Of clothes, like the loud cries
Of frogs or insects in the night
Or like the golden light of sundogs
Through a rift of cloud, like memories
Of wordless lies, like flies that buzz
About an opened fruit, like clothing
Folded in a drawer or like a pain
That vanishes as soon as felt,
Like butter melting in a bowl
Or like the color of a shoal of sand
As waves wash over it, like salamanders
Scurrying from walls, like postcards
Of suburban shopping malls,
Like scores of games with penciled names
Of friends forgotten long ago or like
A song dissolving in an empty room
While in the street below imported saplings
Glitter in the passing light of cars.

—Thomas M Disch

2 comments:

harryn said...

sad ...
liking or understanding his work now seems less important than trying to comprehend how he chose to punctuate his life ...
some of the obits say he was despondent in recent years - aging, loss, and diminishing opportunies can effect artistic sensibilities that way ...
in this throw-away, fast-food culture we call modernity there seems to be a lot of creatives slipping into oblivion from lack of hope and resources - probably at least as many each year as there were perished souls on 911 - so where's the 'war on mediocrity' and the terrorizing consequences that form from apathy ...
saw a sundog on the 4th ...
r.i.p.

douglang said...

Michael, I'm really sorry to get this news, which I hadn't heard elsewhere. I was a huge admirer of Disch back in the 1960s, when I was reading a lot of science fiction. I loved The Genocides and Camp Concentration, and they've stayed with me.

I'm reminded of a biography I read of John Dos Passos, a long time ago. During the last section of the book I kept waiting for things to get better for him, but they never did.It was my first lesson in how cruel life can be in taking things away as we age. Disch seems to have been a victim of this terrible process. I am really saddened. Thank you for this tribute, and for the poem.

Doug