I've been away from here for nearly a week, but this time I have an excuse: kidney stones. Once again I'm weathering a bout of them, and as anyone who's ever experienced them knows, they are among the most painful illnesses anyone can encounter. In addition to totally immobilizing you at the first signs of attack because of the excruciating pain, which I have likened variously to having someone powerdrill through your lower back, plunge a knife repeatedly down the side of your groin, and inflate a portion of your stomach and intestines until they're near bursting, there's the matter of their passing out of your system. That is, if they do; if they don't, they have to be broken up, zapped, laser, sometimes even extracted. I've never had to endure any of these last few treatments, but I can say that there's no shortage of pain at any point. I think I'm past the worst part, but I probably will be posting only intermittently over the next week or so as I recover.
I've been intending to note the appointment of a new Poet Laureate of the United States. This year's new American lyric pied-piper is Kay Ryan, a native Californian who, as far as I know, has never been much of a public figure or a proselytizer for her art. Her brief, often wry, enjambed and rhymed, usually lyric poems, which have appeared in periodicals over the last four decades and in six collections, have many admirers, though until a few years ago, I don't think she received much recognition from the major contemporary critics. She has, however, been lauded by the Poetry Foundation and other arts institutions over the last decade. It'll be interesting to see what sort of approach she takes to the post; I've tended to think that the people appointed to this post really ought to have a history of working in at least a few different communities (and not just academic ones) and one or two concrete outreach plans for the post. The late Gwendolyn Brooks was an exemplary example. But that's just my take.
Thomas Disch, the 68-year-old polymathic speculative fiction writer and poet, died by his own hand a few weeks ago. I first learned about Disch's work via the writings of the one and only Samuel R. Delany, and though I've only read a few of them, I can agree with many of the appraisals that he was an extraordinarily smart man. I may be one of the few people who has read more of his poetry than his fiction, and though I'm not great fan of the poetry, he was certainly clever, and could combine dark subject matter with fixed forms sometimes to striking effect. His science fiction novels, however, which stood among the New SF work of the 1960s and 1970s, will remain his forte. Disch also produced notable work in other genres, including a computer novel, opera librettos, and children's literature, one of the last of which, The Brave Little Toaster, became a Disney film. According to the obituaries I've seen, he'd faced a series of successive traumas, including losing his partner, Charles Naylor, of many years; health and financial problems; and potential eviction from his New York home. He did, however, publish his final novel earlier this year, a satire entitled The Word of God: Or, Holy Writ Rewritten.