David Antin

Eleven ‘games for eleanor’ (previously unpublished) with a republished note on David Antin

(“games for eleanor” was a set of two-person games composed between 1965 and 1966 as a deck of twenty-three cards intended for reading in subsets of six to thirteen cards selected at random. D. A.)



you come into a strange room

as always you are afraid

you are afraid of     the dark     lightning

    an empty road

you will not stand under a tree when

it is raining or sit near a window

    with a spoon

you hear strange noises in the car

the refrigerator is menacing

you believe in bad luck



we make a plan of the city’s streets

we draw lines indicating the paths

    we intend to take

we spend a great deal of time marking

    in the paths with colored pencils

which we do with such care

that the colors soon obliterate the


and we end up framing the maps

    instead of taking walks



i don’t habitually watch you noticing the

    way you come and go

i come across you suddenly like a mirror in

    a painting

in which i am reversed

you are a taste in my mouth



i want to know the way in

i also want to know the way out

even if i want to stay there

I want the doors lit



boundary lines

they are waiting for a word

as they lean against it

it is of a level

they become straighter and


as they go down



what kind of game are we playing

there are some games in which one player wins

what the other player loses

games of this kind are called zero-sum games

because when you add up the gains and the losses

    you get zero

according to the best authorities all games

can be reduced to zero sum-games

what kind of game are we playing



we make a list of all the things we want from each other

i read your list and you read mine

we add many other things to each others lists

we hand them back and learn to want them




cannot retire from them

they require

fixing ones eyes upon it

foresight is seeing

what is not there or

it is seeing the length of your arm or

it is making something

that is not there

now or yet

maybe never



it might be an animal

or a collection of stones

if i turn away

it is a circular movement




we require

nowhere you put your hand

will cover it



treating between equals means

treating between extremes means

standing (not lying) between poles means

treating as equals means

treating as poles means

standing (never lying) means

equal extremes





David Antin was my compadre-in-poetry for more years than most of us have been alive, and over those years I watched with delight and awe his development from “poems that look like poems” to the great acts of talking that marked his later work. In 1975, I took time to write about his early, lineated poems in an essay published in Barry Alpert’s Vort 7 and reprinted later as “David Antin: The Poems Before Talking” in my book of essays, Poetics & Polemics (University of Alabama Press, Modern and Contemporary Poetics Series). An excerpt from that essay follows.


It seems to me that for Antin as for others of us, there has been a strong sense that what we do as poets (more simply: as people responsible for keeping language and reality together) is in danger of an inescapable, premature reduction as it’s forced to enter the unique entropy machine of the modern communications nexus. All of which Antin (whose outside reputation for many years was as an art “critic”) has shown in his model of a Jean Tinguely-type “self-stabilizing data processing machine,” the blueprint of which strongly resembles the ground plan of the [old] Museum of Modern Art. Put any kind of input into this machine, and it will process it in such a way that the output will be “indistinguishable from the pre-input or initial state of the said machine”: a product called “art” there or “poetry” elsewhere, but with its specific features degraded to the level of what we were expecting all along. Whatever …


His, then, is poetry with a vengeance — not because it sounds like what we were expecting all along (obviously it doesn’t) but because he’s deeply into it and challenging the language on its own ground. Don’t fret that Antin has left “emotion” and “imagination” to the businessmen who care about such things (that’s what he says he’s done, and I believe him), but watch him move deliberately toward that rementalization of reality he hopes will spring us from the trap of the Tinguely Machine …


For he acts, here and elsewhere, as the whacked-out moralist [like Epictetus, a role model for his early poems] who recognizes (finally and at long last) that at the bottom of our misdoings is the evasion of our own responsibility to express the reality of things at all costs. I think he’s getting there [has gotten there by now and more], by every means a rementalized avant-garde can put at his disposal. At least I mean to say I’m grateful.


Note: An earlier posting of both the poem and note appeared on the blog version of Poems and Poetics on June 29, 2008.