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July 07, 2008


Thank you, Ken. Tom and I met back in 1979 and became fast friends. We collaborated on a number of poems and other projects. What a terrible blow; what an awful loss. A friend called me late last night with the dismal news. Tom's poetry is outstanding, much more appreciated in Britain than in the US, not to mention such great novels as "334," "On Wings of Song," and "Camp Concentration," and his interactive computer "novel" called "Amnesia," in which you, the player, wake up naked, penniless, and with no money in a hotel room on 59th Street in New York City.
Very sad.

It's worth mentioning his most recent collection of poems, "About the Size of It," from Anvil Press. It was his first book of poems in a decade.

Though melancholy informs his work, I would urge people to read him, but not through the lens of his end. Who else spans the universe between the Brave Little Toaster and the M.D.? The latter has one of my favorite scenes: the immortal spirit of a spirited man is embodied in the flames of a fireplace (in order to prevent an amorous teenage couple on the couch nearby from producing an ill-omened offspring). But their passion inflames his nature, the fire roars up, and he is consumed. It's a deep scene, and metaphor for passions of all kinds. Let's remember Disch's passion for life and literature, and not reduce him to his death. We don't refer to "Wallace Stevens, stomach cancer victim." Disch sported the coolest tattoos I ever saw (one hot day as he strolled shirtless past Union Square), and a like imagination: eruptively creative and meticulously disciplined.

On January 15, 1999, I met Tom Disch at a coffee shop off of Union Square. I had called him out of the blue to see if he would sign some copies of The Best American Poetry (he appeared in five volumes, including "The Best of the Best") along with a copy of his book A Child's Garden of Grammar.

He agreed to meet me and we had a nice chat. He signed my books and he praised my chutzpah for cold-calling him, essentially, and asking if I had done this before.

I acknowledged that I had, citing a previous example. He seemed surprised that people were so trusting to do this and I said, "Well, the worse thing that can happen is they say no." He corrected me and said with a gleam in his eye: "Ah, not true. The worst thing they can do is fall in love with you."

Good point, and a day I still remember fondly. He shall be missed.

--Bill Cohen

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That Ship Has Sailed
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"Lively and affectionate" Publishers Weekly


I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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