To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Sunday, June 29, 2008

David Antin: 11 games for eleanor (previously unpublished)

(“games for eleanor” was a set of 2 person games composed between 1965 and 1966 as a deck of 23 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 has been my compadre-in-poetry for more years than most of us have been alive, and I’ve watched with delight & awe his development from “poems that look like poems” to the great acts of talking that mark his later work. In 1975 I took time to write about his poems in an essay published in Barry Alpert’s Vort, number 7, and reprinted now as “David Antin: The Poems Before Talking” in my forthcoming book, Poetics & Polemics (University of Alabama Press, Modern & 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 & 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 real outside reputation is 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, & 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 & challenging the language on its own ground. Don’t fret that Antin has left “emotion” & “imagination” to the businessmen who care about such things (that’s what he says he’s done & 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 & elsewhere, as the whacked-out moralist [like Epictetus, a role model for his early poems] who recognizes (finally & at long last) that at the bottom of our mis-doings 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], by every means a rementalized avant-garde can put at his disposal. At least I mean to say I’m grateful.


Cy Mathews said...

Could you explain just how the game was played? I really like these pieces and am curious as to the system behind them.

Anonymous said...

great poem games. it's very interesting.