The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

On the Jewish Dimension of David Antin’s Talk-Poetry

I will present preliminary research about the Jewish dimension of David Antin`s talk-poetry. David Antin (1932-2016) was a poet, professor, critic, and performance artist, mostly known for his development of "talk-poetry." These talk-poems consisted of improvised speech addressed to live audiences. The subject matter discussed in talk-poems ranged across a formidable terrain—including literary history, art theory, and personal anecdotes. Antin recorded the audio of these talk performances and then adapted them into texts that utilized experimental typography. These talk-poetry texts were then distributed through various art, literary, and academic journals, and compiled into full-length talk-poetry books. Antin`s avant-garde poetic practice consisted of this mixture of performance and writing practices. The first hints of the significance of Antin`s Jewish identity for these practices arise through passing references, anecdotes, and reflections throughout the talk-poems. Peppered throughout the talks, Antin evokes images of religious Jews, shares anecdotes about Israel, and reflects on his distinctly Brooklyn-Jewish accent and exposure to Yiddish in childhood. These hints are embedded into larger talks, often nested in their themes and sometimes appearing as tangential oral wanderings. Beyond these hints, the notion of Jewish identity is the central theme of one talk-poem, titled "Writing & Exile," which was first performed at a conference organized by Tikkun Magazine in 1990. In that talk, Antin discusses his familial heritage, which included Haskalah and Hasidic influences, and he develops his particular notion of Jewishness as a "sense of refusal." Moreover, Antin notes an interesting relationship to Martin Buber, whom Antin had met, translated, and commented on. In "Writing & Exile," Antin even includes a divergent retelling of a story about the Hasidic figure, Wolf Kitzes, which was also included in Buber`s Tales of the Hasidim. Using these references, I will make the case for the significance of the Jewish dimension of Antin`s avant-garde poetic practice.