Day 1 Response: Improvisatore Antin

Response to: David Antin. What Am I Doing Here. How Wide is the frame?

I believe understanding both the medium and mode in reviewing Antin’s work is vital here, and the initial exposure made me think of two things. First, improvisation, known to be a sign of great talent and intellect in Italy throughout the Renaissance, is similar in approach yet perhaps different in preparation. Improvisational poetry was considered a performance by a male or female artist, usually influenced by the audience (sometimes intimate and other times quite a crowd) and often with an added musical component. Madame de Stael’s novel Corinne, or Italy showcases Corinne, a famed improvvisatrice that was revered for her intelligence and beauty, but above all, her wordsmith ability to perform for a crowd. While an expansive memory and worldly knowledge was necessary, the amount of preparation was less compared to that of Antin or other lecturers perhaps. Antin was given a prompt by Kathy Fraser, “to provide some sort of statement about [his] own work to provide something of a context for the audience” (575). Antin also knew his adversary, and a little about his audience as well. The other side of the spectrum would be the modern digitization of lecture series. For example, since we just read a piece about Dante, well-versed Italian professor Giuseppe Mazzotta taught a Dante in Translation course for Yale in 2008. His entire course was recorded for Open Yale Courses and the transcript created from the semester-long lecture turned into a guide that was published last year, Reading Dante. This is an example of a lecture and there is a transcript as well.

Looking at these two approaches, where does Antin fit? Or, is this more related to the preparation a comic goes through before their act?

Antin discusses “classification” through the Library of Congress and how there is nothing for just “talking”: “i kept looking around for a place into which i could put what i do and i asked myself why do i do it in such a place anyway why do i persist in doing it in a place next to old friends who call upon the word poet to some degree…” (577). Antin begins with really questioning not only what he is doing there, asked to talk on a topic, as well as what any of them are doing there. Poetry has always been put into rigid definitions as well as flexible representations like the improvisatore I mentioned, but is he not just talking? The ideas and concepts that “manifested itself in your mouth” may have come from your head before writing it down. I wonder if in this definition, all writers are talkers in some way? The same goes for a myth vs a true story or a fact.

The section that really came alive for me as a performance was when he spoke about the “hopeful woman” – it had a cadence that was purposeful- a rhythm that you could hear–you could see him possibly sweating, voice raised, sarcastic. Or at least in my mind that is what I envisioned. The repetition of:

–or (for burglarizing) (for petty theft) (for knocking up somebodys child)…

–she has troubles (with her children) (with other people) (with men)

–i keep thinking…

What I actually found myself doing was finding the cadence and reading it aloud myself. So, going back to my question, what do we do with this? The recorded version of an improvisation, but we have the written form? I think we must keep in mind the performance when critiquing since this cannot be considered the concise, polished, edited and formatted poem, nor can it be reviewed as a full performance due to the static nature of the medium.

However, with “How Wide is the Frame” we are interacting a bit more with the original. Does this mean it is not translated if we listen to the performance while following along with the text?

I think a live performance provides an opportunity to critique:

  • a venue in terms of space, sound, echoes, audience type, time of the performance
  • some type of introduction to the performance
  • potentially uninterrupted experience
  • visual and auditory elements simultaneously

Just hearing an audio recording:

  • forces one to close-listen
  • ability to hear environment, tone, and voice fluctuations

Reading the print version while listening:

  • ability to close-listen while close reading
  • can pause the audio to continue a close reading
  • potentially interrupted experience. This feels like a more scholarly endeavor.
  • ability to hear environment, tone, and voice fluctuations and compare to the text that is produced.

These are just my individualized notes on what each experience and performance may provide.




3 thoughts on “Day 1 Response: Improvisatore Antin

  1. You’ve given us a lot to discuss tomorrow. I’m particularly interested in the notions of improvisation that you bring in … from a context with which I am less familiar. Usually I draw upon post-war theatrical performance and jazz as models. Your linking back to the Renaissance is useful. In case it’s helpful, most Antin critics have concluded that while his background reading and study is part of the preparation, that the performance is the space where the threads are woven together — unlike at least some lecturers, who while not reading from a script will typically have an outline or something already structured and written as the performance guide.

  2. Ah! Corrine! Her passion for Italy was to control through her oratory gift and elevate sensual connections to the land until she become a victim of her own art! When I think of Corrine I wonder what happens to the unrecorded composition of the physical, spiritual and artistic elements once the body decays! Her role as the reminder of historical glorious pasts brings ethnocentric ideologies to the crucial understanding of poetry as a political act. In Antin’s response to the rules of language and titles, I find a trap he cannot escape: the category of poet because we lack a validating identity of the “talker” as composer…

  3. I had no knowledge of the Italian Renaissance tradition you write about…thank you for the new thread to follow. Were they improvisers of speech or music or lyrical song???
    Also, I thought of improvisation here as well but more in terms of the beginnings of rap which was somewhat of a competitive duet (rap battle) or a solo on street corners and relied simply on improvising your own lyrics based on a feed from the crowd or the opponent and utilized no music at first other than the occasional beat box back up (another kid who gave you a beat by creating one with his or her mouth)

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