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Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Tom Disch Has Died

A relatively unknown (though admired) American poet has died: Tom Disch. Disch appeared in the canon-forming The Best American Poetry series (five times!). I didn't know his work well. Not many did. Perhaps his divided time (he was also a SF, Horror, and Children's fiction, author) confused the reading public. Or maybe, as well all know, but try to forget, there is barely any general interest in poems, even ones as well-crafted, smart, and funny as Disch's. Why?

That question brings doctors, priests, and critics running through the fields, to answer - but no one can blame modernism, or mass culture, alone. It seems to me that poetry, however courteously it knocks on a person's door, isn't always let in. Poetry's a special guest that we want over only when we're at our best (or worst) it seems. Few readers turn to poems on a day to day basis. Few churchgoers attend mid-week.

The sadness of the neglected poet is often ignored, or mocked - but it's a true ache, and it persists. It can sometimes seem to be part of the package deal of the calling. Perhaps the semi-retiring, stoic position of the later modernists in England is the best one, to weather the storm of relative indifference. Perhaps poets should learn to not have many readers; then the few that do come, can be all the more appreciated. Hopefully, Disch will get a few more readers, now, with his many obituaries, and the blog posts. He has become a name, as the saying goes. Good luck to him, in the oblivious beyond, where posterity begins, and the writer ends.

Meanwhile, and despite what he himself wrote on the subject, poets do need more group-hugs, and fewer savage critics (no shortage of those). With only ourselves to watch over us, poets can only blame themselves when indifference, or heartless (opportunistic) opposition, takes over. A few poets see the "game" as a zero-sum one, and so try to settle scores, and knock peers down, to keep the road clear ahead for their own careering; that's sad, and short-sighted. If Eyewear has a theme, it is that the world of poetry needs to be kinder, more cooperative, and able to speak out more about those in its midst who would build their own fiefdoms, for their own (not poetry's) purposes.
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