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Poems -- Tom Disch

(Poem #443) Poems
I think that I shall never read
A tree of any shape or breed -
For all its xylem and its phloem -
As fascinating as a poem.
Trees must make themselves and so
They tend to seem a little slow
To those accustomed to the pace
Of poems that speed through time and space
As fast as thought. We shouldn't blame
The trees, of course: we'd be the same
If we had roots instead of brains.
While trees just grow, a poem explains,
By precept and example, how
Leaves develop on the bough
And new ideas in the mind.
A sensibility refined
By reading many poems will be
More able to admire a tree
Than lumberjacks and nesting birds
Who lack a poet's way with words
And tend to look at any tree
In terms of its utility.
And so before we give our praise
To pines and oaks and laurels and bays,
We ought to celebrate the poems
That made our human hearts their homes.
-- Tom Disch
I must say I like Disch's parody [1] a good deal more than I do
Joyce Kilmer's original [2]. The latter is weak, sentimental, and on
the whole, just not very good; today's poem, though, is witty,
sensible, and much more in accord with my own views of what
poetry is and does.

Having said that, though, I'd be the first to admit that Kilmer's poem
(or at least the first and last couplets thereof) will probably be
immortal; 'Poems', on the other hand, will almost certainly not.
Such is life.


[1] How could I resist a piece that rhymes 'poem' and 'phloem'?

[2] 'Trees', at poem #146


There's a pretty famous sf author called Thomas M. Disch ('Camp
Concentration', '334', 'Angouleme'). I wonder if he's any relation?

[One fatbrain search later]

Yup, I think it's the same chappie. One of fatbrain's listings is for a
collection titled 'Dark Verses and Light', by Tom Disch / Thomas
M. Disch.

Who'd have thunk it?

(Though actually, 'poems that speed through time and space / As
fast as thought' is a bit of a giveaway).

[After the afterthought]

I wonder what Disch would have to say to people (geeks, aptly
enough) who refer to published material as 'dead-tree' versions...

17 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

mallika said...


A poem is much more than verse
As Joyce should know, both James
and Kilmer. Tom's unduly terse
when he dismisses trees. He names
Not the forms that verse can take
The villanelle, the sonnet;
And though he does a good rhyme make
He's bees within his bonnet.

Consider this, that trees do make
For human bodies - homes
And verse- at best - can only take
Space in a shelf of tomes.
So trees are poems, too but they
Are also utilitarian
Can we the same of poems say?
Why, it would be Barbarian.

Mallika Chellappa. 2000.

Sodergren Ted said...

Bravo! Well said!

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