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Stephen Fredman’s Glimpse into David Antin’s World
Q. 1 When you began delivering talk poems in the mid-1970s, they seemed quite confrontational. There was a remarkable resistance to the work even among so-called “avant-garde” poets on the West Coast, who seemed, as I recall, to take your questioning of the function and techniques of poetry as a direct affront. What specifically were you doing that was so provocative?
A. 1 I think I was born under the star of controversy. Back In the sixties my pop poems in Code of Flag Behavior provoked controversy because they were too “pop.” Definitions was too intellectual, Meditations was too hermetic. And in 1973 when I performed “what am i doing here” in front of the poetry audience of the San Francisco Poetry Center I was too demotic and also impious. But what else could you expect from a poet who defined myth as “a terrible lie told by a smelly little brown person to a man in a white suit holding a binocular case.”
Q. 2 I’m thinking, in particular, of concerns like beauty, emotion, and poetic form, which were taken extremely seriously by the New American poets and their followers, but which you viewed as extraneous, or, using the ultimate intellectual put-down of that time, as “trivial.” What was the purpose of your assault on such aesthetic notions, and how did other poets react?
A. 2 Since at least the end of the eighteenth century a cluster of ideas has haunted discussions of poetry: that it’s a fundamentally emotionally expressive medium closely related to music; that its origins are mythical, primitive, ritualistic and grounded in our physical being; that these manifest themselves through the genre of song, which derives its strength from the exigencies of its form. This is a grandly imagined conception of poetry. It is in fact a myth.
Read more at Jacket2. The interview will be published as the foreword to David Antin’s How Long Is the Present: Selected Talk Poems, edited by Stephen Fredman, to be published by University of New Mexico Press, in 2014.