It has been reported that the extraordinary science-fiction writer, poet, and essayist Thomas M. Disch has died—he is said to have commited suicide on the 4th of July. He was 68.
The general public may know his best-known credit: He wrote the novella The Brave Little Toaster, which became the acclaimed 1987 Disney cartoon. But Disch also wrote ten science fiction novels and scores of short stories that placed him at the center of his genre for their uncommon literary adroitness, dry wit and clear-eyed skepticism. Go read the lyrically beautiful On Wings Of Song (1979) immediately, please. He also wrote a unique trilogy of mordant thrillers: The Businessman: A Tale of Terror (1984), The M.D.: A Horror Story (1991), and The Priest: A Gothic Romance (1994).
Disch's primary calling, however, was as a poet. He published a half-dozen collections characterized by a mastery of poetic form, and in 1995 published a collection of essays, The Castle of Indolence: On Poetry, Poets, and Poetasters, that overflowed with glowing appreciation and ruthless criticism of what he considered the best and worst tendencies in modern poetry. I kept it on my bedside table for periodic re-reading and inspiration.
I'll quote just one apercu among many from that collection that all critics would do well to heed: "The larger value of negative criticism—beyond the sigh of relief that 'At last someone has said it'—is that, without it, any expression of delight or enthusiasm is under suspicion of being one more big hug in that special-education classroom where poets minister to each others’ needs for self-esteem."
Others will doubtless comment on the importance of Disch’s poetry in this space; my small request is that you also read the full range of what Disch wrote and fully appreciate his art, craft, and passion. It was the failure of an audience to appreciate the scope of what Disch accomplished that, I'm willing to bet, was one cause of his sad, too-early death.