I have spent portions of the last 72 hours arranging with Readercon and with producer Eric Solstein for a showing of Tom Disch reading his “suicide note” poetry sequence, which will take place at 9pm on Friday, July 18, this week, in Burlington, MA. Tom shot himself in the head on July 4th. This has been much discussed in the blogosphere, and there have been some fine obituaries by his friends and acquaintances.
News of his death came to me not long after I heard about Michael Flynn’s heart attack, and consequent two stents, and of the stroke and brain haemmorhage of another writer I work with, and before I heard, just last night, about Christopher Roden’s heart attack. That’s quite a pile-up of medical problems in a short space, and I wish the living all well and speedy recoveries. Tom is gone, though.
I met Tom in 1970, though I was at the same party as he was at the Worldcon
in 1967 in New York City. He was ferociously intelligent and witty, and tall and slim then, though the first time he came to dinner he said that we wanted to gain heft and look middle-aged and prosperous. “After all,” he said, “is not middle age the prime of life?” And he wished to attain that prime quickly. I read his fiction with intense interest, and feel that he was already at the top of his form then. I was also the editor of a poetry magazine, The Little Magazine,
and encouraged him to send his poetry to us, and we published pretty much everything he ever sent over the next decade. At the end of the 1970s, he and his beloved Charles Naylor both joined the editorial board of the magazine, along with Marilyn Hacker and Carol Emshwiller and others. It was a mighty time.
As a science fiction editor, my relations with Tom were rocky, and in the end distant. After some early tries, we could never agree on publishing deals. I desperately wanted to buy his incomplete novel, The Pressure of Time, in the early 1980s, but he refused to write the rest of it except on his own actually quite unreasonable terms. I was unable to meet them. But socially we remained cordial, with a few cold spells, unfortunately the last one very recently.
But what a fine and occasionally astonishingly brilliant writer he was. And often very funny indeed. I am told that the reading to be shown on July 18 will be released on DVD this fall as an adjunct to the book of poetry. I don’t anticipate that they will be funny, but that they will be powerful and worth attention.