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Antin's 'talk pieces'...belong somewhere among a standup comedian's rap, a storyteller's fable and a formal lecture. 

—Michael Davidson, The New York Times Book Review

David Antin

Contemporary American poet and critic

David Antin (1932- ) was born in New York City. After receiving his BA from City College of New York in 1955, he worked as an electronic engineer, and as a freelance translator and editor, mostly of scientific material. In 1964, he entered New York University for graduate studies in Linguistics. He later worked as a part-time curator for the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Boston. Antin’s prose and poetry began appearing in small magazines around 1957. In 1960, he received the Longview Award for Poetry and the Martha Foley citation for the "Most Distinctive Short Stories of the Year." He was conferred the Creative Arts Institute Award from the University of California in 1972, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1976.

What It Means To Be Avant-Garde

Poetry by David Antin

what it means to be avant-garde is David Antin’s third collection of "talk poems” published by New Directions. As in his earlier talking at the boundaries (1976) and tuning (winner of the 1984 PEN/Los Angeles Literary Award for Poetry), Antin’s brilliant improvised disquisitions at once challenge readers’ expectations even as they instruct and entertain. A poet, performance artist, art critic, and professor of visual arts, Antin, since his college days in New York in the ’50s, has been at the cutting edge of the avant-garde. The avant-garde? Yes, if by this is meant not an image of fashion but the place where art and life intersect, imparting to both a greater urgency––if is meant the place where experience and knowledge find their deepest expression, where the idea of a universal language can find shape, where the price of art is life itself, where the fringe is the very center of existence.

Available: January 01 2001


Poetry by David Antin

"I reject the idea of a sacred language," the poet and art critic David Antin has said. "For me, poetry is a mental act, not work which will become the object of a specialized cult." His own poems since the early 1970s have taken the shape of improvisatory talk performances before live audiences––narrative pieces often autobiographical and even fictional, but always with the critical and philosophical base that is the ground of his poetry. Tuning, Antin’s first collection of such improvisations since Talking at the Boundaries (1976), is a book of eight thematically related performances––a single structure built out of loosely fitting, overlapping pieces enclosing some central space like a shingled workshed. The ideas that appear here, the characters that come to mind, seem again and again to be involved with problems arising from a misconceived notion of "understanding"––as if in life experience there were an ideal, geometric congruence between idea and thing––that ignores the crucial, human question of how we arrive at a "common knowing." But how common and for how long? And how is it, starting from different places and experiences, traveling by different pathways and at different paces, we can come to a common knowing? "These questions," Antin explains, "recur, as I try to offer an alternative, dynamic model of the way we arrive at and depart from such a knowing, while my characters––friends and acquaintances, rumors and ghosts––walk in and out of my pieces." ’Tuning’ is the name of this model.

Available: January 01 2001

Talking At The Boundaries

Poetry by David Antin

For the last few years the poet and art critic David Antin has been performing spontaneous "talk poems," eight of which have been brought together in Talking at the Boundaries. "I see my talking pieces," says Antin, "as philosophical inquiries to which I try to bring the resources of language, not only my own language, but natural language in its natural setting, or one of its natural settings––talk. I’ve been a poet, critic, linguist, and engineer, and though this knowledge informs the book, it is not the work of a professional, of which there are by now too many that have proved too useless. What kind of a professional was Socrates? Talking at the Boundaries," he continues, "asks questions about life, about art, about the nature of experience and how it is apprehended. All of the pieces in it began––like most talk––as improvisations on particular occasions in particular places. They were recorded and transcribed with more or less modification to make this book. But as an improvisation is not in ’prose,’ which is an image of the authority of ’right thinking’ conveyed primarily through ’right printing’––justified margins, conventional punctuation, and regularized spelling––this book has been printed without recourse to such appeals. I do not recognize my wife’s name by its spelling on a page and write it as I see fit when the occasion arises. In this I console myself that Shakespeare’s father’s name is recorded in eighty-three different spellings and that he himself spelled it four different ways in his own will."

Available: October 01 1976