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David Antin

1932–2016

Born in New York City on February 1, 1932, David Antin was educated at City College of New York, where he studied science and languages, and New York University, where he studied linguistics and received an M.A.

An experimentally driven poet, Antin used found text, or juxtapositions of different kinds of texts, to create new linguistic and philosophical meanings in his early published work. In the late 1960s, Antin’s work often took the form of "talk poems," which were improvised pieces that he would perform extemporaneously. This process allowed Antin to be inventive, while also subverting the monotony of the "standardized" poetry reading. The poems themselves were often motivated by the location of the reading and the attendant audience. These poems were often recorded and some semblance of the original spoken texts were transcribed and published in Antin’s poetry collections.

Antin has published over ten books of poetry, including the talk-poem books Talking (Kulchur Foundation, 1972) and Talking at the Boundaries (New Directions, 1976), as well as a novel, an autobiography, and a conversation with Charles Bernstein. He has also written a great deal of critical essays, some of which, including an influential essay on the avant-garde, have been translated into Slovak and Hungarian.

An art critic and visual/media artist as well as a poet, Antin also published essays and gave art talks at such institutions as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Sorbonne and the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, where served as a Fellow. Some of Antin’s later visual media work was in filmmaking, notably, a series of "Micro-Films," which are slide sequences of words and images that accumulate to create a very short film.

He received numerous honors and awards, including a Guggenheim Fellowship and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He received the PEN Los Angeles Award for Poetry in 1984.

Antin taught in the experimental visual arts department at the University of California at San Diego, beginning in 1968. He lived in San Diego with his wife, filmmaker and performance and installation artist, Eleanor Antin. He passed away on October 12, 2016.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Definitions (Caterpillar Press, 1967)
Code of Flag Behavior (Black Sparrow Press, 1968)
Meditations (Black Sparrow Press, 1971)
Talking (Kulchur Foundation, 1972)
Talking at the Boundaries (New Directions, 1976)
Tuning (New Directions, 1984)
Selected Poems: 1963-1973 (Sun & Moon Press, 1991)
What It Means to Be Avant-Garde (New Directions, 1993)
i never knew what time it was (University of California Press, 2005)
How Long Is the Present: Selected Talk Poems of David Antin (University of New Mexico Press, 2014)

Prose
Radical Coherency: Selected Essays on Art and Literature, 1966 to 2005 (University of Chicago Press, 2011)
A Conversation with David Antin (with Charles Bernstein) (Granary Books, 2002)
After the War: A Long Novel with Few Words (Black Sparrow Press, 1973)

David Antin

By This Poet

5

the theory and practice of postmodernism—a manifesto [excerpt]

         about two years ago elly and i decided we needed a new mattress 
or maybe elly decided it    because i didnt pay much attention to the 
  problem
               we had an old mattress wed had it for years and the salesman
 wed bought it from had assured us it would last us a lifetime    and it
was getting older and lumpy or lumpy in some places and hollowed out 
  in others and    i just assumed it was part of a normal process of aging
 it was getting older we were getting older and wed get used to it     but 
  eleanor has a bad back and she was getting desperate to get rid of 
this mattress     that had lived with us for such a long time and so
 lotally      that i thought i knew all its high points and low points     its
eminences and pitfalls    and i was sure    that at night my body
 worked its way carefully around the lumps    dodging the precipices
and moving to solider ground whenever it could
                                              but maybe eleanor
sleeps more heavily than i do    i have a feeling that i spent much of 
 my life at night avoiding the pitfalls of this mattress that i was used
to     and it was a skill id acquired over the ten or fifteen years of this
 mattress’ life     so I felt there was no reason to get rid of this mattress
that had been promised to us by a salesman who said it would last the
 rest of our lives     i figured we were going to live long lives i didnt  
think we were anywhere  close to dying     so neither was the mattress
  but eleanor kept waking up with backaches
          still i figured it was a good mattress and that elly just didnt have
 enough skill at avoiding the lumps      it never occurred to me that the 
mattress was at fault     so i didnt  do anything     and elly didnt do
  anything because shes not into consumer products and hates to go
 shopping    but by the end of a year elly convinced me     because she
  has a sensitive back and i dont     that she had a more accurate
  understanding of this business than i did      so I said sure eleanor  
         lets get a new mattress      were rebuilding the house       as long as
were going to have a new house      we may as well have a new mattress 
 but eleanor said how will i know its a good one     i dont want to get 
another mattress that gets hollowed and lumpy and gives me backaches
 when i wake up     how will i know how to get a good one
         i said well open the yellow pages and well look up mattresses and 
 therell be several places that sell them       and ill close my eyes and 
point a finger at one of these places      and it will be a place that has 
 lots of mattresses where we can make a choice as to what constitutes 
 a good one by lying on them

the second hundred: for sid luft

1.

there are two sides to every story and to abbreviate one side is to diminish a side of a wall    creating an absence that is stronger than any presence and making any attempt at accurate construction hopeless    sid luft is such an accusative absence    perhaps you have never had to address yourself to a wraith    to proceed adverbially    naming effects as of the wind upon trees or Van der Waals forces on a surface    but sid luft was a test pilot    had flown grumman p 47's called thunderbolts and twin-fuselaged p 38's called lightnings    and thought it an agreeable task    his eye proceeding over the control panel checking the readings on all of the luminous dials    letting his ear discriminate among the complex series of metallic sounds that would allege a private relaxation    the way it takes the sharp eyes and quick ears of an astronaut to foresee a future failure in the allusion of a single dial    what is out there is altogether conjectural    that is the attraction that can take a smart boy out of his apartment and suspend him over an entire atmosphere    this applies also to arctic explorers whom also some bubble must arouse    let this be an attempt at assessment


2.

you know how a small deviation in the suspension of a balance wheel can lead to a barbarous inflection of the entire mechanism?    bringing a belgian police dog to sit in your lap or a bicycle to rest under a moving van    and the imperfection is only borne in upon you once it has passed a certain boundary?


3.

and in a car a defect in the low speed carburetor circuit will leave the entire carriage sucking for air at anything below the highest throttle speeds    so it is necessary to go on a splurge in cincinnati and choose a tomato soup red oldsmobile before going to chef's college    to infuse a vessel with air here becomes a commission    it is required to create a sense of competition where there isnt any    on a farm by the connecticutt    then to stand back at a street corner refraining from criticism like roger de coverley    as much of a spectator and as kindly    a moss covered rock coolly withstanding the current


4.

such a machine is guaranteed to bring you to despair precisely when the situation isnt desperate    because a mounting anxiety approaches a maximum when you have nothing to record in your diary and you have nothing to fall back upon except a tenuous self-discipline


5.

which supposes not only a set of earnest resolutions    promises made to Eliot for a regimen of self-improvement to be undertaken in the doldrums    dance lessons at 12:00    voice in the afternoon    and strict control of your diet    the problem is how to go on being enthusiastic about swallowing air in the evening    it means being equipped with the sense of a soft worm under the shell of a mollusc    which is an excellent image but finally fails to exhilarate if you have never seen it


6.

yet what continues to fascinate us in the shell are the continuous depositions of calcium    which we undertake to unwind like a bandage    while each roll is just like the last    allowing for minor accidents    and merely somewhat smaller    it does not fulfill our expectations    but the belief that there is something to fulfil in our expectations is fundamental


7.

a guard outside of a warehouse suggests there is something to protect


8.

the idea of hypocrisy is expensive


9.

for someone to scream incidentally and interrupt lunch


10.

similar cases in "temporary amnesia" are also known


11.

all you have to do is go to the library to become convinced that they are very likely    energy coming from somewhere striking like lightning


12.

annulling a marriage in a minute    such impulsive behavior modifies the entire history of a landscape    when a car breaks down it appears there was always something wrong with the motor


13.

to a man on a tightrope the Falls at Niagara are the truth of a river    and living to ninety appears like a sudden nomination


14.

its hard to maintain your obedience to impulse when you know that at 5 o'clock you're about to enter Mercy Hospital for a colitis operation    which leaves you nothing to do but pretend that under the ether you're going back for a look at your origin


15.

have you noticed how psychological states are all nouns    Happiness  Sorrow  Rage  Fear  and Shame  are never named participially say    like Smiling-Preceding-the-Storm or Lining-the-Depths-of-an-Outer-Darkening or Something-Preferred-to-Nothing?    its almost worth becoming a professor and obtaining a right to prophesy    erecting a science of naming and calling it Pyschology    finding a net in our hands meaning that there is something we pursue


16.

Judith what i have to say will be lost in this quiet for which i was never quite successful at promoting an antidote


17.

the knack of a child cupping a radio to his ear on his walk through the traffic    i would really have liked to wrap you in music in elevators and airliners    which i could recommend over amphetamine for its more regular rhythm


18.

to engineer another moment in the wings at the palladium and wait for an illumination from the scene to come and seize you    what we can expect of speaking sincerely is an elevation of feeling that we can equate with sincerity    which makes Wearing-Your-Heart-On-Your-Sleeve more than a becoming fashion that can fit any college sophomore and be successful    it needs a desire to be stretched while you are still superintendent of your passions    to which you will ultimately surrender


19.

and recalling the moment of your triumph is a roll call of reporters in which i even remember Ted Thackerey of the Compass    the last time we were truly together


20.

though in your memory it was undoubtedly different


21.

maybe you remember a village where i was a villain


22.

and the weather was bad    yet you didn't know whether to leave or take Joey and Lisa to the movie    the separate inventories of facts in the memories of people who have shared common experiences are weird    though perhaps only this division preserves the welfare of individuals and is insurance against the inevitable separations of pairs of men and women

6th separation meditation

it appears whole
it has been
thought of
as good
not reasoned out
he uses
he is bound
to a state
he has recognized
even if the description is a delusion
it is worth while to speak of logic
frequently 
it depends on knowledge
to translate it
suggests conflict
which is 
implied
in the word
demonstration
it would seem
the more formal
the meaning seems to be
the more
from the center of your being
that feeling
that nothing
either for me or my friend
the conjecture
this meaning
or material
is applied at the end
as the element
of commanding value
in contrast with joy
which is not of its essence
it is sometimes
supreme
something specially concerned
in conduct
interest
the true interest
the interest of true self
is mad
in this state
he is confronted by the rich
if you take a low view of politics
you will degrade yourself
see how things are going in the capital!
the senator
discovers
the soul's moral equipment
is imperfect
the point seems to be
this indignity
the educated man
is untrained
to complete the sense
protest
the managers
the schools
taking cognizance of things
see
the community 
its limitations
its hard circumstances
the insolence of the rich
all acts are appropriate
to the circumstances

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