Grateful acknowledgment is made to Jake Marmer, who has consented to the publication of this essay here. — A.F.
I remember listening to Marc Ribot’s band Ceramic Dog, thinking: My entire brain — the main line and the back corners — is burning to grasp this music. That night, the avant-garde guitarist played what was likely an entirely improvised set with three fellow musicians. I tried to follow each new direction the music took, each new interaction that erupted; I was fully consumed in some new state of attention, witnessing all the multiple levels of the work coming together in front of me.
I wanted to improvise poetry as Ribot had improvised his music. It’s not a new idea. Jack Kerouac, like a number of other poets of the Beat era, wrote ecstatic, unedited compositions that felt raw and spontaneous. Kerouac famously explained that he wanted to be known as the “jazz poet blowing a long blues in an afternoon jazz session…” But his improvisation was limited to the writing process. Once finished, these poems remained more or less static throughout the publications and poetry readings that followed.
In 1985, Eileen Myles was the new director of the St. Mark's Poetry Project in New York. She asked me to curate a lecture series, the first such program at the church. I modelled the series at the Poetry Project on my earlier series New York Talk, giving it the amusing title, given the sometimes seeming resistance to poetics at the St. Marks at the time, St. Marks Talks. And talk it did.
Alan Thomas, our University of Chicago editor took this picture at the book launch, in Los Angeles, for Antin's essay collection, Marjoire Perloff's Unoriginal Genius and my Attack of the Difficult Poems: Essays and Inventions.
I met Jerome in the Spring of 1950 at a small party given by a Francophil professor, where seven or eight of us sat around with wine glasses under a modest collection of School of Paris paintings, making awkward conversation about modern art and poetry, when I noticed a short noble -browed guy in a green suit sitting across from me, his green eyes blazing with the kind of disapproval I was feeling myself. This was not what we were looking for in modern art and poetry. Some time in the fall we met again, realizing we were both trying to become poets, and we started to hang out together, searching for signs of a living experimental scene, listening to folk music and jazz, and checking out modern dance and music in a culture that believed artistic experiment and exploration were over. And it wasn’t till the late 50s that we caught up with cool jazz, Abstract Expressionism, John Cage, Wittgenstein, Fluxus and Pop.
David and I met for lunch in SoH0, near Ellie's gallery. Much of our conversation focussed on David's essay collection; there were enough works for two books, so which to leave out? David was never much interested in talking about collecting his essays; his focus was always on what he doing now, what he was doing next. That's partly why it took him so long to gather together the pieces in that book. But I was persistent and brought up the essay collection just about every time we met. After a while, we walked outside and wound our way, slowly, toward Houston, talking all the while. I asked David about his sky-writing poems.
David Antin Radical Coherency: Selected Essays on Art and Literature, 1966 to 2005 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011) (detail of cover pictured)
reviewed by Douglas Messerli
One of the first things anyone approaching David Antin's marvelous new collection of essays on art and literature will notice is the striking image on the book's cover, a photograph that depicts David Antin, looking perhaps a bit more Buddha-like than in does in real-life, walking toward another image of himself, this from the back side of the face. There is something arresting about this image, even a bit eerie, but I made little of it when I first saw it, except to register that it represented an image of the author, symbolically speaking, of 1966 coming towards his current being. A few friends, however, found that image quite disturbing, one suggesting he had to keep the book face down on his coffee table. Perhaps it was just the oddity of having a photograph, which we associate with the real world, representing something that we know cannot truly happen, one aspect of self meeting up with the other.
A talk by David Antin "Rethinking Freud – Taking Freud out of Psychoanalysis" 3:00 PM Tuesday February 16 at the Kelly Writers House A talk by David Antin "Rethinking Freud – Taking Freud out of Psychoanalysis" 3:00 PM Tuesday February 16 at the Kelly Writers House
David Antin is a poet, performance artist, art and literary critic internationally known for his "talk pieces" -- improvisational blends of comedy, story and social commentary that critics have described as "a cross between Lenny Bruce and Ludwig Wittgenstein" or alternately as "a blend of Mark Twain and Gertrude Stein." New Directions has published three books of these "talk pieces" -- Talking at the Boundaries (1976), Tuning (1984), and What it Means to Be Avant-Garde (1993). Tuning was awarded the prize for poetry for 1984 by the PEN Center of Los Angeles. Much of his earlier work was collected in Selected Poems 1963-1973 published by Sun and Moon Press in 1991. Antin has performed at the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Getty Center in the U.S., at the Centre Pompidou and the Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, and performed both improvised and scripted verbal works for radio and television. Antin has designed Skypoems, short texts he describes as "commercials that aren't selling anything," that have been skytyped over Los Angeles and San Diego, and Word Walks for urban parks, as well as an ongoing electronic poem for an airport. He received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEH and was awarded the PEN Los Angeles Award for Poetry in 1984. He has published criticism in most major art and literary journals, and his work has been written about in The Poetics of Indeterminacy, Marjorie Perloff (Princeton, 1981); The Object of Performance, Henry Sayre (Chicago, 1989); The Jazz Text, Charles O. Hartman (Princeton, 1991). An extensive interview with him has been published in Some Other Frequency: Interviews with Innovative American Authors, ed. Larry McCaffery, U. Penn. 1996, and the Review of Contemporary Fiction devoted its entire Spring 2001 issue to his work. Dalkey Archive recently republished his 1972 book talking (originally published by Kulchur Foundation) with a Preface by Marjorie Perloff and a Postface by David Antin. Granary Books recently published A Conversation with David Antin, the text of a three month email conversation between David Antin and Charles Bernstein. The most recent works include two new collection of talk pieces -- I Never Knew What Time It Was (UC Press, 2005) and John Cage Uncaged is Still Cagey (Singing Horse, 2005).