Saturday, July 12, 2008

Thomas M. Disch, RIP

I'm still on the road, so I have no time to write anything elaborate. I was very saddened to find that classic science fiction author Thomas M. Disch died by his own hand shortly before I left home. (Hat-tip to 2 Blowhards here.) I have been a fan of his ever since my old friend Marc Kummel (alias Treebeard) loaned me his copy of Camp Concentration, circa 1972. One thing that blognotes about Disch sometimes fail to mention is that Disch was a delightful poet -- and that, always the contrarian, he wrote poems that scanned and rhymed. He was an ardent champion of "the new formalism" (ie., poems that scan and rhyme). A delightful example is this parody of Kilmer's Trees.


I think that I shall never read
A tree of any shape or breed -
For all its xylem and its phloem -
As fascinating as a poem.
Trees must make themselves and so
They tend to seem a little slow
To those accustomed to the pace
Of poems that speed through time and space
As fast as thought. We shouldn't blame
The trees, of course: we'd be the same
If we had roots instead of brains.
While trees just grow, a poem explains,
By precept and example, how
Leaves develop on the bough
And new ideas in the mind.
A sensibility refined
By reading many poems will be
More able to admire a tree
Than lumberjacks and nesting birds
Who lack a poet's way with words
And tend to look at any tree
In terms of its utility.
And so before we give our praise
To pines and oaks and laurels and bays,
We ought to celebrate the poems
That made our human hearts their homes.


Slanted Answer said...


I'm not a huge fan of sci-fi, but I do occasionally like reading books in the genre. I'd only vaguely heard of Disch before I saw his obit in the NY Times. Are there any books of his that you would recommend?

Lester Hunt said...


Of his SF novels, the most approachable that I have read was Camp Concentration. Also, I've never read it, but I assume the even earlier novel, The Genocides, must be good, since it is still in print after all these years. (It's evidently about a future in which the earth is taken over by plants -- not intelligent plants, just plants -- from outer space.) But the SF stuff of his that makes you stop and say "wow" most often is undoubtedly his short stories. As near as I can tell, the ones I am thinking of were reprinted in a book called "The Early Science Fiction Stories of Thomas M. Disch." It is easy to find in libraries. With Disch, "early" is good, since his stuff became progressively weirder and harder to take. The fact that he eventually committed suicide was not a big surprise.