A great inspiration, radical model, dearest friend, and ever an iconoclast.
David Antin was one of the great American poets of the postwar period, transforming both the practice of poetry and the essay. His “talk poems” are chock full of startlingly philosophical insight, compelling autobiographical turns, and bursts of comic genius. His work is the record of a person thinking out loud, weaving narratives on the fly, and making poems that are as engaging as they are wise.
Reggie Watts on improvisation in Artforum: People usually end up thinking, What the fuck is he doing? At some point in a set I’ll start doing stuff that’s not funny. It’s weird or depressing. Or on the verge of depressing. Or just confusing. Then I do something absurd, and there’s a release––and then we’re back on track again. There isn’t an obvious or logical nature to it. I’m recontextualizing things, or taking two disparate elements and making them clash. And when that happens there’s a reaction. Usually it’s something laugh-y. Or maybe the audience is just laughing because they’re nervous. Or just like, huh? Hopefully it provokes some kind of reaction. But it’s really just about absurdity. I like going down the road and taking people way down this path through the thorns and thickets and then, at a snap of the fingers, they’re in a McDonald’s and wondering, how did I get here? I like humor that really goes somewhere and takes chances. I think every joke is an experiment. The experience of performing is very similar to channeling. The more open I am, the more these ideas come into mind ahead of time. I’m performing but I can see these options in the future and can continue performing. It’s like in Tetris when you see the preview of the next shape coming. You’re playing the game in real time and you’re placing the block, but you’re also aware of the next one. I’m performing live, and I get a preview of a potential idea. I can use it however I want. I can rotate the shape. I can put it over here or put it over there and create a strategy in real time. When I’m open, I see more pieces ahead of time. I like abstraction because it frees you from structure. As an audience member listening to or watching Bill Cosby, or any of the masters, like George Carlin, it’s absolutely fascinating to hear what they have to say because you feel like you are there with them. But their style also follows a familiar logic. I mean, they throw some curveballs at you because that’s just the nature of the comedy. But when I’m watching Monty Python or Bill Hicks, at times they have this way of creating a psychedelic experience. I think it’s the psychedelic that I’m interested in, because after a while people ask themselves, What’s the joke, where is this leading me? And then I fail to lead them anywhere they expect. And then they let me try it again. And after so many times of being let down, you have to either go “I hate this. I’m leaving,” or just surrender to it. Then you can just go along for the ride.
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).