David Antin was one of the great American poets of the postwar period, transforming the practice of poetry, art criticism, and the essay. His “talk poems” are chock full of startlingly philosophical insights, weaving narratives on the fly and making poems that are as engaging as they are wise. I came to the event not knowing what I would say. Among the first speakers was Barbara T. Smith, who asked each of us to cut a lock of hair, which she collected. This reminded me of the Jewish ritual of cutting a piece of clothing at a funeral, usual a tie. So I ended my talk with a reading of “Rivulets of the Dead Jew,” which makes a reference to this ritual.
“We / take the form / of our uncertainty,” Gil Ott wrote in a 1984 poem. I take that as a motto of a poetics we shared, Gil and me, born the same year smack in the middle of the last century. Uncertainty remains now, as it was thirty years ago, as it was in 1950, a poetic vice for many. Gil expressed his searching uncertainty with an unflappable and genial defiance, living his fifty-four years with grace, courage, outrage, and élan.