A couple of the poems in The Private Life of Books were written in memory of friends who have died. “The algorithm of Serendipity ; or, The poem in the bookshelf” recalls the shop of Berkeley bookseller Peter Howard, which lived up to its name, Serendipity, as one would always find something apt or interesting in the labyrinth. David Streitfeld put it succinctly in a note in the New York Times upon the closing of the shop: “Mr. Howard wanted people to search for books and find not just what they were looking for but the book next to it, which they might want more if they only realized it existed”.
The fifth poem in the sequence, “The poet in his library”, was written in memory of poet and science fiction author Thomas M. Disch (1940-2008). I knew Tom during the last couple of years of his life, and we got on well. He was despondent all the years I knew him (had been since the death of his partner Charlie Naylor, I guess), only the gloom was often leavened with flashes of humor and dark glee. The portrait above is a still from filmmaker Eric Solstein’s recording of Tom reading from his poem cycle, Winter Journey, clips from which were screened at the NYRSF Reading Series Tribute to Thomas M. Disch on 5 June 2018.
During the production of The Booksellers, director D.W. Young taped me reading several of the poems from The Private Life of Books. He kindly made the file available and so here is “The poet in his library” :