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From the Archive

Tom Disch's "Letters to Dead Editors"

Tom Disch 2On July 1, 2008, at 11:16AM, Tom Disch revealed God's "other" Big Idea of the day. He called it "Letters to Dead Editors."

Another were-there-but-world-enough theme anthology. It was to have been a whole collection by yours truly, and the first letter would have been sent to Mrs. Gaskell, who inmho should be included with the great Victorian novelists, along with the woman she wrote the biography of, Charlotte Bronte. Recently the BBC has given Mrs. G. some of the attention she merits. So much so that she doesn't really need me beating the drum for her, tho my letter would have been written in response to her great novel about the urban underclass, Mary Barton. What she brought to bear was a humorless (but perceptive) Moral Earnestness and a patient trompe l'oeil realism about the daily life of the miserable-most poor. By comparison Dickens comes across as lazy and/or sneeringly cruel.

I've tried writing such letters to real-life good writers but they are too busy trying to grab the brass ring or otherwise advance up the ladder, or else simply think me pushy or wicked or dumb and don't write back or just say thank you, goodbye. Maybe it would be different now in the era of blogs and email, but back then my epistolary charms had no effect on the likes of Louise Erdrich et al. As indeed, they shouldn't have. There are too many possible venal reasons why we don't write to our favorite celebreties. But to those safely dead and in their vaults--why not? The idea would be to address them as though they were real people, not statues swathed in marble togas and bronze crinolines, and as though they'd been keeping up with the things they had usually been interested in.

If anyone wants to give it a try, you could post a specimen letter here, but this should not be the usual Anything Goes comment. Mere japery on the order of "Shit happens" as one's whole letter to Dale Carnegie would rate a quick dele from God's red pencil. But I do think, and so does God, that it might be a nice book. Indeed, He often writes such letter Himself and sends them poste restante to the big post office on high.

-- Tom Disch

from the archive; first posted November 1, 2008

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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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