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.