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Thomas Disch, RIP

I am immensely sad right now. Word on the street is that phenomenal poet, critic and science fiction scribe Thomas Disch committed suicide this weekend in New York.

I loved Disch, though mostly as a critic. One of my favorite books - not just of his, but ever - is his essay collection, The Castle of Indolence: On Poetry, Poets and Poetasters. If you've gotten into a conversation about poetry with me that lasted longer then three minutes, I either quote him or say something that was influenced by him. That book is the reason why. If the title sounds familiar to those of you I know only through LJ, it's because I've quoted him a number of times here. His is one of the few books in my collection that I keep next to my desk, always. His is also one of the even fewer books in which highlighted passages appear.

To wit:

"And truly, there is no other form of writing that feels so good as a lyric poem as it gushes forth in a steady flow. If that metaphor rubs you the wrong way; if you would at once insist that poetry is Hard Work and not a luxury product for intellectual sybarites; if poetry suggests to you rather the possiblity of Seriousness higher than prose rather than the possibility of sheer music - then nature did not intend you for a poet."


"All this praise of laziness and going with the flow comes with one large proviso: the soil must have been prepared, the harp tuned, the fingers schooled. Then careless raptures may sound more like Liszt than listlessness. It should also be noted that the laziness of genius may seem, at lower altitudes, a great deal like exertion. George Eliot, for entertainment in her declining years, liked to read aloud from Dante. Auden vacationed in Iceland and learned the language in the spirit of an intellectual alpinist. It was there, so why not climb it? For such spirits, schools are superfluous."

Just typing that was very hard for me. These two quotes alone have taught me more about poetry than a few dozen books I have on the subject; not necessarily how to write a better poem, but how to be a better poet. To be able to live with it and embrace it without turning into...well, observations for another time, I suppose.

The most excruciating thing about all of this?  HE HAD AN LJ.
One of my favorite writers that I figured I may never get the chance to meet and he was RIGHT HERE THE WHOLE TIME until two days ago. I could have been in literal contact with the man and it never occurred to me to find out if he could have been reached or if correspondence or thanks might make their way to a deserving person.  I am really kicking myself now.  Who else is out there that I admire that could be reached just as simply?  It boggles the mind.

Disch killed himself and most of those who knew him say they're not surprised. Apparently he struggled with depression for years. I don't really have the words to address that properly. I know a great many poets who deal with depression, but I don't say much to them about it either, so why should I say something now because it's Disch? Read into that what you will. 

I have always had a spot in my heart and gut for the tough ones, the ones who call it like they see it.  Disch did it with style and a Hemingway-esque gusto.

I will miss him a great deal.


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 7th, 2008 03:34 am (UTC)
I'm so sorry...
Suicide is very hard to deal with (not that I've had to, personally, but I am more than familiar with depression). I know depression is supposed to be mostly chemical and hereditary (and I have definitely seen that), but I have also seen that deep and beautiful thinking seems to go hand in hand with that despair--as if that vulnerability opens one up to a deeper understanding. Maybe just coincidence or my imagination, still...

I cannot offer words of comfort--just that I send a virtual hug.
Jul. 7th, 2008 04:13 am (UTC)
Re: I'm so sorry...
Thanks, LV. I feel like I lost a really cool, cantankerous uncle. His LJ is a fascinating exercise as well: a poem almost daily, and that's not counting his ocassional soapboxes and rants.
Jul. 7th, 2008 03:58 am (UTC)

I was unfamiliar with him, but you've made me want to pick up a copy of that essay collection.
Jul. 7th, 2008 04:12 am (UTC)
Please do! Most of it are reviews (some good, most bad, all sharp), but the introduction is alone is worth the price.
Jul. 7th, 2008 06:00 am (UTC)
"Depression" is too easy.
I'm so sad tonight Scott, for me and for you and others, but not so much for Tom, for whom I have been sad for so long.

As for depression, is offers the convenience of a single word and better yet, a diagnosis. I just finished a diary about Tom on Daily Kos, (a place I used to spend more time). You might find it interesting:

Jul. 7th, 2008 07:47 am (UTC)
Re: "Depression" is too easy.

Thank you for taking the time to send the link. It saddens even more to know that this is how he was going through his life, but my god, what lessons there are to be had.

Thank you again.
Jul. 7th, 2008 07:02 am (UTC)

I didn't realize that he was responsible for The Brave Little Toaster. I do remember that.

It's strange to look back at his livejournal. Since each entry captures a "current moment," it makes me wonder what else was swirling in the mind at that moment...like if he had any idea while writing these recent entries, that he would end up taking his own life, in a little while. Then, you can't help but wonder if there was anything that someone could have posted, that may have somehow altered that destiny...

Jul. 7th, 2008 04:15 pm (UTC)
I knew Tom for decades. Literally. Going back to the '60s. There is nothing anyone could have said to him at this time in his life that could, or would, have stayed his hand - not for more than a day, or a week, or perhaps a month or so at the most. This was inevitable. Still, sad. And shocking, always shocking, as these acts are.
Jul. 7th, 2008 10:12 am (UTC)
A sad concoction of events led to his death. Loss of a partner, a home, the stress of landlord harassment, aging. It's a tough situation to dig out of.
Jul. 7th, 2008 01:08 pm (UTC)
oh no. fuck. my heart cant take any more of this shit.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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