Tom Disch is a poet living in New York City who has long worshipped Susan Sontag since they were both teenagers in the 1940s, auditioning for the chorus lines of the same Broadway musicals. Of her he says, "She had such gorgeous legs but she just couldn't carry a tune."






A Sestina for Susan Sontag


Susan, you must allow me to condescend

This once.  I suppose you mean well, but

Is Godot what they really need off there

In Sarajevo?  Wouldn't it be more worthwhile,

And amusing, to offer some gallows comedy

About the awful life they've all been living?


Of course, everyone needs to earn a living,

And Beckett may be a better bet than "Muse, descend,

And help me write, right now, the comedy

All Yugoslavia's been waiting for."  Better the butt

Of a few ephemeral lampoons while

The neverending crisis lasts than for there


To be new proofs that the Muse is rarely there

When she is summoned.  Bad faith?  Who's not living,

After all, one kind of lie or another?  And while

There are hopeful's and a stage to send

Clowns on, there's life at the box office.  But

Can't we, in hindsight, posit an original comedy?


One germane to the situation: a comedy

Of terrorism that would show unshaven Serbs their

Visages, complacently corrupt as Joey Butt-

Afuco, smirking and working for a living

In prime time; show Croats gloating at the end

Of what little civilization they had; as, meanwhile,


Muslims pray for a new jihad.  What would Simone Weil

Have woven from such contradictories, what comedy

Of a Godot less and godless world without end,

Would be more comfort in Sarajevo from the Living

Theater's Frankenstein than from the droning sackbut


Of Samuel Beckett.  Leave them alone.  But,

If you must meddle, offer an evening of Kurt Weil. 

Have Bob Hope tell them life's worth living. 

Appease them with a sentimental comedy

By Anyone but Beckett, and let its moral be: There,

With the grace of God, go we.  But don't condescend.

Pretend you're human.  And smile.  Send but

A sentence to where they're waiting: Life's worthwhile,

And all's forgiven in the comedy we still are living.




from Poetry, March 1996









Some Poets Who Shall Be Nameless





I never read him when he was the rage,

And now his reputation's so much faded.

Sad truth, that at a certain age

One's appetite for earnestness is jaded.








Who squandered his youth and found himself,

In middle age, a nondescript and common whore.

Although you'll not find his books on your shelf,

He had a blast.  They don't make his kind anymore!








Though better than the critics have maintained,

Your verse is not the beaten gold you think it.

But "vapid"? No, nor altogether "strained."

Just chill and , even at its best, a trinket.