David Antin

Ivor Griffiths, Poet, Novelist & Short Story Writer

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David Antin
David Antin

David Antin (born in New York City in 1932) is a United States poet and critic. In the late 1960s, Antin began performing extemporaneously, improvising "talk poems" at readings and exhibitions. In the late 1960s Antin moved with his wife, the writer and performance artist Eleanor Antin, to Southern California to take up a post at the University of California, San Diego, in the newly formed and experimental Visual Arts Department. He served for a time as gallery director and much longer as a professor there. In the early 1970s, his influence on a nascent group of conceptual photographers among the graduate students there was powerful. He has a fellowship in the Guggenheim Foundation and the NEH. He also received the PEN Los Angeles Award for Poetry in 1984. Antin lives in San Diego with his wife.


David Antin has said that as a child he wanted to invent things, and that to him this meant he must either become a scientist or an artist. His early published poetry, collected in "Selected Poems: 1963-1973," was experimental, using found or "readymade" texts to address issues of language. In "Definitions for Mendy," a poem from this book, he uses definitions of "loss" from both a dictionary and an insurance handbook to fuel a meditation on the death of a friend. In his "Novel Poems" from the same book, he pages through popular novels, choosing a line or a phrase from each page to assemble poems.

After gathering some experience reading his poems, he began to entertain doubts about the convention of reading his own previously-written poetry. He turned instead to improvising poems that are a kind of thinking out loud about the act of creating meaning. The theme and treatment of these "talk-pieces" are often inspired by their location and audience. The talk pieces can be viewed alternately as poetry that seeks to re-connect with oral and performative aspects of their tradition, as philosophy in the tradition of Plato's dialogues or Wittgenstein's lectures, or as a "site-specific" artwork like Robert Smithson's earthworks. He tape records each performance and often composes a subsequent written version, which are collected in books like "talking at the boundaries," "tuning" and "what it means to be avant garde."

In his talk pieces Antin blends personal narrative with philosophical reflection to address issues of meaning. In "tuning," for example, he critiques the concept of understanding and offers an alternative model. In "what it means to be avant garde" he suggests that the avant garde attempts to address not the future but the present. In "the fringe" he tells a story about resistence to the Vietnam War that offers as a central figure a bucket containing the urine of several Guggenheim poets.

Poetry Collections

  • Definitions 1967
  • Autobiography 1967, UbuWeb edition 2004
  • Code of Flag Behavior 1968
  • Meditations 1971
  • After the War (A Long Novel with Few Words) 1973
  • Talking 1974, 2001
  • talking at the boundaries 1976
  • tuning 1984
  • "Selected Poems: 1963-1973" 1991
  • what it means to be avant-garde 1993
  • A Conversation with David Antin (with Charles Bernstein) 2001
  • i never knew what time it was 2005
  • john cage uncaged is still cagey 2006
  • David Antin at Electronic Poetry Center Includes excerpts from books, interviews, and sound recordings

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