Black Mountain Poets

October 28, 2010
Black Mountain Poets




The Black Mountain poetry movement was centered around a relatively small group of mid-20th century avant-garde and postmodernist poets who were associated with the Black Mountain College. The experimental art school offered a wide curriculum of classes spanning the literary, visual, and musical fields of learning. The school drew its breath from Charles Olson's influential essay, "Projective Verse," which came to define the effort of the movement in general. In his essay, Olson called for a change in form and perception of modern poetry at the time. Olson called attention to the line and the artist's ability to articulate their vision through breath and syllables, rather than rhyme and meter. Although the school only enrolled 1,200 students throughout its lifetime, the school harnessed some of the most creative and influential artists of its time. Amongst the prominent literary teachers were, Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan. Famous performing arts teachers included revolutionary composer John Cage and renowned choreographer Merce Cunningham. At times, guest lecturers even included Albert Einstein. Creeley,the most prominent Black Mountain poet beside Olson, moved to San Francisco in 1957 after teaching and working as editor of the Black Mountain Review at the College for two years. Once in San Francisco, Creely operated with Allen Ginsberg as a direct link between the Black Mountain Poets and the Beats. The movement heavily influenced the modernist poets who came to be associated with the Language School. Although the school was short-lived, its influential teaching and the creative minds it produced stirred a movement that revolutionized the avant-garde.


John Dewey

The progressive method of education as incorporated by John Dewey had a large effect on Black Mountain College and it's artists.


The Bauhaus School (1919-1933) was one of Germany's most influential avant-guard education programs. The school principles strengthened the idea of a liberal arts education, focusing on the fields of architecture, design, painting, and literature. It housed some of Germany's most radical artists, spreading influential ideas about art education.

Photo Courtesy of

As the school began to close due to advances in Hitler's power, many German artists fled to the US to continue working and teaching. This is how Black Mountain's first teacher - Josef Algers - came to be at the school.

"Germany Today - The Bauhaus School - General Information." Web. 27 Oct. 2010. <>.

Projective Verse

In 1950 Charles Olson (referenced below) published his seminal manifesto, "Projective Verse," that would come to define the Black Mountain Poets and their deviation from closed forms of metric verse to a wider spectrum of poetry. In his essay, Olson calls for poets to move towards a more projective form of poetical composition and analysis he called an "Open Composition Field." This By "projective," Olson is referring to the breath that allows personal speech to relate to the written word as well as the efficiency in which the artist is able to articulate that speech through the meter, line, sound and composition of the lines of the poem. Olson explains that the breath of the poem gives the poem energy and substance all the while sustaining it's very existence as a whole. The goal of Olson's essay is to convey the idea that the poem should be treated as a fully realized object that is energetically passed through the poet, onto the paper, and received by the very spirit and intellect of the readers.

Olson believed that voice and sound are the most influential and powerful elements of a poem connecting readers to the text. Olson focused on the power of the syllable and, through the manipulation of breath, its ability to change the meaning and depth of a poem. The theory that Olson developed sought to instill a heightened awareness for the sound of each word within the context of its line and its ability to manipulate and empower the verse further. Olson explains: “the HEAD, by way of the EAR, to the SYLLABLE / the HEART, by way of the BREATH, to the LINE". By developing a keen ear for each individual syllable, Olson proposes, a poet is able to channel their intellect more precisely so they can properly apply breath and power at its most influential moments within the poem. While a poet is writing, it is his responsibility to be constantly aware of the syllables, words, and breath he is using so that the poem loses none of its vivacity and power. If constructed properly, the verses that emerge will become dramatically enlivened, full of motion, and the very breath of the poet's intellect.

Breath, Olson says, “is man’s special qualification as animal. Sound is a dimension he has extended. Language is one of his proudest acts. When a poet rests in these as they are in himself … then he works" (Benz). As proposed before, Olson explains that the breath is the avenue the poet's intellect takes to manifest itself. Olson was addressing the vocal mechanics of a poems and its vast underestimation up to that point. In modern practice, Olson's technique is often employed as a breath taken where the line clearly ends. This use of breath to indicate space and intonation within the poetic line has put more focus on the power of pauses and breaks within the lines.

Essentially, Olson is proposing a new formalism that elevates the form and line above rhyme and meter in poetic importance. By turning the creative mind inward, focusing on the breath and passion of the line, a poet has the potential to release immense creative energy through open field composition. This intense internal energy, attention to breath, and focusing of creative passion is what fully enables open verse to develop as an active creative structure and extension of the poet.

The two main principles of Olson's proposed formalism are:

1. “Form is never more than an extension of content”

2. “One perception must immediately and directly lead to a further perception.”

Benz, Jim. "Charles Olson's Essay on Projective Verse: The High-energy Construct of Open Field Poetics." Online Magazine and Writers' Network. 5 Feb. 2010. Web. 27 Oct. 2010. <>.

Black Mountain College

"The College Died, But the Students Really Lived"

-New York Times Article, 1992

Photo courtesy of


Black Mountain College, nestled amongst the Southern Appalachian Mountains in Western North Carolina, was the heart of the Black Mountain Poetry Movement. Founded primarily by John A. Rice in 1933, the school was intended to follow the same principles of progressive education as established by John Dewey. The school would stress the importance of the creative arts and their role in terms of human understanding. The owners of the college (who were the faculty themselves) felt that a true liberal arts education must incorporate the use and understanding of art, with this topic ranging from visual art, poetry, architecture, music, etc. Although the school officially closed in 1957, the influences of the artists at the school continue to play a huge role in today's society.

"The College Died, but the Students Really Lived." New York Times 14 Mar. 1992: 13. Academic Search Complete. Web. 26 Oct. 2010.

Faculty and Students

Photo courtesy of
Faculty meeting. Left to right: Robert Wunsch, Josef Albers, Heinrich Jalowetz, Theodore Dreier, Erwin Straus, unknown, Lawrence Kocher

Black Mountain College boasted an enormously influential faculty and group of students during it's time as a functioning school. Given that the faculty actually owned and operated the college, a highly democratic system of governance was practiced. The college worked under a "Board of Fellows" approach to leadership, where faculty members were voted to the board and from there organized the staff and fiscal responsibilities. There was a study body representative who was also a voted member of the Board of Fellows, speaking for the student body at each of the meetings. The Rector - who is essentially the Dean or President to the college - was voted upon by the faculty in the Board of Fellows. He would then decide who would be the Treasurer and the Secretary of the Corporation.

Members of the college were required to assist in the operations of the school, which required physical labor such as construction projects, landscaping and kitchen duty. Classes were held primarily at night for time was set aside in the afternoon to maintain the college grounds and buildings.

The first hired teachers at the school were artists Josef and Anni Albers, who escaped the destruction occurring in Hitler's Germany to teach painting at the highly experimental school. Influential poets who either taught or studied at Black Mountain College include Robert Creely, Denise Levertov, Charles Olson, and Robert Duncan (information on each listed below). Though each of the poet's style of writing differs from one another, they can all be thought of as having shared the same inventive philosophies of "projective verse."

By the late 40's, the Board of Directors at Black Mountain College included such influential figures as William Carlos Williams and Albert Einstein.

"ABOUT BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE." - Storytelling. Web. 24 Oct. 2010. <>.

"American Masters . Black Mountain College." PBS. Web. 21 Oct. 2010. <>.

Sperlinger, Mike. "Starting At Zero: Black Mountain College 1933-57." Art Montly 293 (2006): 26-27. EBSCO Academic Source Complete. Web. 26 Oct. 2010.

Curriculum and Classes

Classes and curriculum at Black Mountain College were divided into to separate levels: the Junior Division and the Senior Division. Regardless of the student's prior education or experiences, they would be placed in the Junior Division upon their arrival to the college. Promotion to the Senior Division depended on the extent to which students could successfully complete a number of oral and written examinations - not on the number of classes taken. This is also the case in regards to graduation from the college, where faculty members examined the readiness of each individual's background.

There were no required courses for graduation from Black Mountain College. Instead, students mapped out a course load with their advisors that would appropriate and well-rounded enough for the students' planned careers. Classes were made up of seminars, lectures, and tutorials and they were organized on a day-to-day basis by the professors themselves.

The Black Mountain College Project has a page that shows notes taken from several courses and lectures.

"ABOUT BLACK MOUNTAIN COLLEGE." - Storytelling. Web. 24 Oct. 2010. <>.


Today, the site that was Black Mountain College has been transformed into Camp Rockmont - a Christian summer camp for boys.

Photo courtesy of

This is an amateur video taken of Black Mountain College today.

Although the college is no longer in existence, it's influences on modern arts are still reverberating in today's society. The establishment of such a strong liberal arts education at Black Mountain has been essential to the development of American arts and the counter culture in the 20th century. The figures coming out of Black Mountain College - Charles Olson, Robert Creely, etc. - have been important figures in the face of American literary change and excellence. The Black Mountain poets also had a huge impact on poetry movements like the Language poets.

Much research has been conducted on Black Mountain College both during it's short existence as well as today. The methods of education and democratic governing have since inspired a number of individuals to attempt to learn from the way of life at Black Mountain. Here is a preview to the documentary Fully Awake: Black Mountain College made in 2007. The film focuses not only on the college but on it's influence on society as a whole.

Oman, Eriak. "The Art Story: School - Black Mountain College." The Art Story: Modern Art Movements, Artists, Ideas and Topics. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. <>.

Smith, Roberta. "Legendary Influence of Black Mountain College." New York Times 4 Dec. 1987. Web. 25 Oct. 2010. <>.

Key Figures

Robert Creely


Photo courtesy Michael Romanos on

"Robert Creeley has forged a signature style in American poetry, an idiosyncratic, highly elliptical, syntactical compression by which the character of his mind's concentrated and stumbling proposals might be expressed ... Reading his poems, we experience the gnash of arriving through feeling at thought and word."

- Forrest Gander in Life & Death


Robert Creeley was born on May 1, 1926 in Arlington, Massachusetts. By the time he was four years old, he had lost the use of his left eye, and his father had died. After working with the American Field Service in Burma and India and finishing his time at Harvard college and getting married (he did not graduate), Creeley began correspondences with both Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams in 1949. He failed at creating a magazine, but around the same time he grew to know Charles Olson, a professor at Black Mountain College, who invited Creeley to become a member of the faculty, despite his personal lack of a degree. He did earn a Bachelor of Arts at Black Mountain College, and while there he created the Black Mountain Review. After moving on from the college when it closed and enduring a divorce (1955), he remarried and earned his MA at the University of New Mexico (1960). Creeley then wrote "For Love: Poems 1950-1960" (1962), from which he finally received national recognition. By 1977 he had divorced his second wife and had married again.

creeley1.jpg Photo courtesy of Allen Ginsberg on

After publishing his own poetry, prose, essays, and interviews, he became Poet Laureate of the state of New York, served as the Samuel P. Capen Professor of Poetry and the Humanities at State University of New York at Buffalo, and received numerous honors including the Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, the Frost Medal, the Shelley Memorial Award, fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, and several grants. In 1999 he became the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets. On March 30, 2005 Robert Creeley died at the age of 78.

Wired for Books posts a 30 minute radio interview with Robert Creeley about his life and writing.

Creeley's notable friends include, Charles Olson, Robert Duncan, Allen Ginsberg, John Weiners, Ed Dorn, and Jackson Pollock.

Poetic Vision

Robert Creeley played a significant role in defining the contemporary movement of poetry that began after World War II with his critical writings.

Believing that poetry had come to a static point where it was written in perfect form to please the critics, Creeley desired to move to something more authentic. He identified with the Romantics to an extent, focusing on specific moments or thoughts to expound upon in poetry, avoiding the concrete and tangible. His poetry often revolves around feelings in a short, minimalist fashion.

Creeley also experimented in "developing a music from common speech" (Myers, Wojahn). He used line breaks and tested different associations in order to find how words and syntax were changing, following specific subversive patterns, with specific words and syntactical patterns being able to be interpreted in different ways during their phase change. He used these patterns and "strategically important words lineated differently" (Myers, Wojahn) in order to reveal more than one meaning and music. He emphasizes the music in language that is based on the changing of language itself.


Creeley was constantly producing published works. He wrote over sixty books of poetry, and over twelve books of prose. Much of his work is available online. He published three books during his time in Europe: "Le Fou" (1952), "The Kind of Act of" (1953), and "The Immoral Proposition" (1953). When he moved back to America he produced "All That is Lovely in Men" (1955) and "If You" (1956).

Because Creeley produced such an extensive amount of text, it is difficult to compile it all. However, "The Collected Poems 1945-1975" publishes a lot of his poetry in one place, while "Was That a Real Poem and Other Essays" compiles much of his criticism. All of his fiction is published together in "The Collected Prose". Also, his correspondence with Charles Olson is published in "Charles Olson and Roben Creeley: The Complete Correspondence".

For further enjoyment of Creeley's work, PennSound of the University of Pennsylvania has archived over 200 audio recordings of Creeley reading his poetry.

Bernstein, Charles. "EPC/Robert Creeley Author Home Page." Electronic Poetry Center Home Page. University of California Press, Apr. 2008. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.

Everett, Nicholas, David Perkins, and Mark Doty. "Robert Creeley's Life and Career." Modern American Poetry. Department of English, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.

Myers, Jack Elliott, and David Wojahn. A Profile of Twentieth-century American Poetry. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1991. Print.

"Robert Creeley Interview with Don Swaim." Wired for Books: Poems, Stories, Plays, Essays, Lectures, and Interviews for Children and Adults. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.

"Robert Creeley." PennSound. The University of Pennsylvania. Web. 28 Oct. 2010.

"Robert Creeley." - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. Academy of American Poets. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.

Robert Duncan

jwilliams_rduncan.jpg Photo courtesy of Jonathan Williams at "a poet of mysticism, visionary terror, and high romance." -Laurence Liebermann


Robert Duncan lived from 1919 to 1988. His mother died in childbirth, and as his father was a daylaborer left alone to care for the child, he put Duncan up for adoption. At six months a couple with strong belief in various concepts of Hinduism and a general idea of the occult adopted Duncan based on his astrological signs. Their spiritual beliefs greatly influenced his poetic inspiration and perspective. In high school he began to write poetry due to the influence of an English teacher, and he chose his poetic vocation at that time.

Instead of studying history in Europe as his parents wanted, Duncan remained in San Fransisco with his homosexual partner, a painter named Jess Collins. His work often reflected his sexuality, and he was a significant proponent of homosexuality.


“To and From the Printed Page” by Jess Collins, courtesy of, located at Pasadena Museum of California Art. Collins "took great inspiration from language—especially the elliptical language of poetry and, conversely, the misleadingly direct-seeming language of the comicstrip and popular illustration." - Peter Frank

In 1938 Duncan moved to New York, and while keeping close ties with emerging artistic movements like American Surrealism and the work of the Abstract Expressionists, he more openly involved himself in literary circles than he had in San Fransisco - while he had been with Collins in California, he tried to stay out of the picture so as to not detract from the artist's career. In New York, he published the Experimental Review, publishing Henry Miller, Anaïs Nin, Kenneth Patchen, and Lawrence Durrell, among other authors in his circle.

In 1946 he returned to San Fransisco during the time that the San Fransisco Renaissance was developing. Jack Spicer and Robin Blaser's "serial form" of poetry that repeated themes, images, and phrases, emerged during this movement and influenced Duncan's own developing poetic vision.

One year later he met Charles Olson, and they began to form a deep friendship that led to Duncan teaching at Black Mountain College in 1956. During his time there, he published his first successful and mature book of poetry, The Opening of the Field, which shows a notable influence from Olson's projective verse and open form theories. However, Duncan further developed Olson's ideas and viewed projective verse as nature taking on poetic form without boundaries of any kind. When Olson passed away, he acted as the key spokesperson for poetry with open form.

His notable friendships include those with Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Kenneth Rexroth, Tennessee Williams, James Baldwin, Paul Goodman, Ezra Pound, H.D., and William Carlos Williams.

Poetic Vision

When Duncan describes his poems, he states, "A longing grows to return to the open composition in which the accidents and imperfections of speech might awake the intimations of human being. He searches for quality like a jeweler - and he is dependent one suspects on whether his emotion (which he polishes) is a diamond or not" (Allen 401).

Influenced by his Theosophist upbringing, Duncan often focused on the mystic in his poetry. James Dickey states in Babel to Byzantium, "Duncan has the old or pagan sense of the poem as a divine form of speech which works intimately with the animism of nature, of the renewals that believed-in ceremonials can be, and of the sacramental in experience; for these reasons and others that neither he nor I could give, there is at least part of a very good poet in him."

Between his mystic point of view and his reception of projective verse that surpasses its creator, Duncan forms a unique poetic style that stands out among the many poetic circles in which he is involved. His individuality has sparked a significant amount of conversation by critics. Michael Davidson states that his poetry revealed "a compositional field where anything might enter: a prose quotation, a catalogue, a recipe, a dramatic monologue, a diatribe" ( In The New York Times Book Review, Jim Harrison says his poems are "moving through time with the poet"), stating they are "a block of weaving. . . . to read Duncan with any immediate grace would require Norman O. Brown's knowledge of the arcane mixed with Ezra Pound's grasp of poetics. . . . [Duncan] is personal rather than confessional and writes within a continuity of tradition. It simply helps to be familiar with Dante, [William] Blake, mythography, medieval history, H.D., William Carlos Williams, Pound, [Gertrude] Stein, [Louis] Zukofsky, Olson, [Robert] Creeley and [Denise] Levertov" (


Poetry: Early Poems (1939) Heavenly City Earthly City (1947) Poems (1949) A Book of Resemblances (1950) Medieval Scenes (1950) Fragments of a Disordered Devotion (1952) Letters (1953) Selected Poems (1959) The Opening of the Field (1960) As Testimony: The Poem (1964) Roots and Branches (1964) Medea at Kolchis: The Maiden Head (1965) A Book of Resemblances Poems (1966) Of the War: Passages (1966) Bending the Bow (1968) Derivations: Selected Poems (1968) Names of People (1968) Play Time Pseudo Stein (1969) 65 Drawings, A Selection . . . from One Drawing Book (1970) Poetic Disturbances (1970) A Prospectus for . . . Ground Work (1971) Caesar's Gate Poems (1972) Poems from the Margins of Thom Gunn's Moly (1972) A Seventeenth Century Suite (1973) An Ode and Arcadia (1974) Dante (1974) Selected Poems (1977) Medieval Scenes (1978) Ground Work: Before the War (1984) Ground Work II: In the Dark (1987) Selected Poems (1993)

Prose: A Great Admiration: H. D./Robert Duncan Correspondence (1992) A Selected Prose (1995) Writing A Composition Book Stein Imitations (1964)

Drama: Faust Foutu: An Entertainment in Four Parts (1959)

Essays: Fictive Certainties: Essays (1979)

Letters: The Letters of Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov (2003)

This selective list is courtesy of

Allen, Donald. The New American Poetry. New York: Grove, 1960. Print.

Duncan, Robert. "YouTube - Robert Duncan on "mission"" YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.

"Robert Duncan." - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.

"Robert Duncan." The Poetry Foundation : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry. The Poetry Foundation. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.

Denise Levertov

levertov-1957-by-jonathan-williams.jpg Photo by Jonathan Williams (1957) courtesy of "Dignity, reverence, and strength are words that come to mind as one gropes to characterize . . . one of America's most respected poets" - Amy Gerstler


On October 24, 1923 Denise Levertov was born in Ilford, Essex, England to an Anglican parson and a Welsh mother. As a child her mother read famous authors aloud to her such as, Joseph Conrad, Charles Dickens, and Leo Tolstoy, exposing her to literature at an early age. When she was twelve, she received two pages of advice from T. S. Eliot in response to a few of her poems that she had sent him. Levertov finally gained her first poetic publication when she was seventeen in Poetry Quarterly. By the time she was twenty-one she had written The Double Image which, when it was released, brought her recognition as a "New Romantic." Levertov never received a formal education or college degree.

Levertov served in World War II as a nurse in London during the bombings. Later, in 1947 she married an American writer named Mitchell Goodman, and they moved to New York. During this period she began to study the theories of Emerson and Thoreau, as well as Ezra Pound's experimentation with poetic form. Levertov grew to know the members of the Black Mountain circle of poetry through her husband, forming a close friendship with Robert Duncan. Unlike the other Black Mountain Poets, she never taught at the school and never claimed to be part of the Black Mountain school of poetry, but her poetry was published in the Black Mountain Review. She did, however, move into a more experimental style of writing poetry, rejecting the formality she learned from her British roots, and even William Carlos Williams recognized her emerging, unique style after her publication of the book Here and Now (1956).

Poetic Vision

Levertov's poetry reflects nature, humanism, love, and faith in God. She grows increasingly political and feminist in her poetry, especially with the onset of the Vietnam war. In World Literature Today Doris Earnshaw says that Levertov is "fitted by birth and political destiny to voice the terrors and pleasures of the twentieth century...She [had] published poetry since the 1940s that [spoke] of the great contemporary themes: Eros, solitude, community, war" ( Levertov believed that instead of abiding strictly by a specific poetic form or even free verse, each poem should be treated as a meditation from which the poet creates content, and the poet then creates a form specific to that content.

The Slought Foundation has released a 63 minute recording of the 1963 Vancouver Poetry Conference, which Charles Olson and Robert Creeley also attended. The recording includes Levertov reading her poetry aloud.


Denise Levertov reading her own poetry:

Poetry: The Double Image (1946) Here and Now (1956) Overland to the Islands (1958) With Eyes at the Back of Our Heads (1959) The Jacob's Ladder (1961) O Taste and See: New Poems (1964) The Sorrow Dance (1967) Relearning the Alphabet (1970) To Stay Alive (1971) Footprints (1972) The Freeing of the Dust (1975) Life in the Forest (1978) Collected Earlier Poems 1940-1960 (1979) Candles in Babylon (1982) Poems 1960-1967 (1983) Oblique Prayers: New Poems (1984) Poems 1968-1972 (1987) Breathing the Water (1987) A Door in the Hive (1989) Evening Train (1992) The Sands of the Well (1996) The Life Around Us: Selected Poems on Nature (1997) The Stream & the Sapphire: Selected Poems on Religious Themes (1997)

Prose: The Poet in the World (1973) Light Up the Cave (1981) New & Selected Essays (1992) Tesserae: Memories & Suppositions (1995) The Letters of Denise Levertov and William Carlos Williams (1998)

Anthology: In Praise of Krishna: Songs From the Bengali (1967) Selected Poems by Eugène Guillevic (1969) Black Iris: Selected Poems by Jean Joubert (1989)

This selective list is courtesy of

"Denise Levertov." - Poetry, Poems, Bios & More. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.

"Denise Levertov." The Poetry Foundation : Find Poems and Poets. Discover Poetry. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.

Denise Levertov. "Vancouver 1963: Reading." Slought Foundation Online Content. [09 August 1963; Accessed 28 October 2010]. <>

Gallagher, Kevin. "Denise Levertov." Jacket Magazine. Jacket Magezine. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.

Charles Olson


Charles Olson was born in Worcester, Massachusetts in 1910. He graduated Wesleyan University with a B.A. and an M.A. and continued his education to receive a PhD from Harvard University. Olson took a job at Clark University where he taught English for two years. In 1941, he married Constance Wilcock and they had one child together. Instead of continuing his profession in academia, Olson moved to Washington, DC in 1942 and became very active in depression era politics. He then served as an assistant chief to the foreign language section of the Office of War Information (OWI). Olson served as a huge supporter in the Roosevelt campaign, but after Roosevelt’s death in 1945, Olson became disappointed in the OWI censorship issues, quit and moved to Key West, Florida to dedicate himself to his writing.

In 1951, Olson was hired as a visiting professor at Black Mountain University in North Carolina. Olson later succeeded Josef Albers and became the school’s rector (headmaster). After the school closed in 1956, Olson moved to Gloucester, Massachusetts with his second wife. He then served as a visiting professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo (1963 – 1965) and University of Connecticut (1969). Charles Olson died from cancer in 1970 at the age of 60.

    • Interesting Fact: Charles Olson coined the name postmodern in a letter to his friend, Robert Creely, in the sense that they and other artists came after great Modernists such as Pound, Williams, Picasso, etc. **


MUST LISTEN! Charles Olson reads "Maximus to Gloucester, Letter 27" (March 1966)

Charles Olson's first book was Call Me Ishmael based on the novel Moby Dick and is a continuation from his thesis at Wesleyan. Later on, Olson published his Projective Verse. As stated earlier, Projective Verse calls for poetic meter based on breath rather than syntax and logic. Olson's work, especially "The Kingfishers", "In Cold Hell, in Thickey," and The Maximus Poems are works that explore social, historical, and political concerns. Unlike his longer works, his shorter works display a sincere lyric of the twentieth century. In 1950, Olson was inspired by Pound's Cantos and began writing the The Maximus Poems. These poems were unfinished at the time of his death. In these poems, the residence of Olson - Gloucester and Dogtown, Massachusetts - were mentioned very frequently. The title Maximus gains its name from the voice of the speaker in the poems. The voice is based simulatenously on Maximus of Tyre, a nomad Greek philosopher, and Olson himself.

Poetry In Cold Hell, in Thicket (1953)

The Distances (1960)

The Maximus Poems (1960)

The Maximus Poems, IV, V, VI (1968)

The Maximus Poems, Volume Three (1975)

The Maximus Poems (1983)

The Collected Poems of Charles Olson (1987)

Prose Call Me Ishmael (1947)

Projective Verse (1950)

The Mayan Letters (1953)

A Bibliography on America for Ed Dorn (1964)

Human Universe and Other Essays (1965)

Selected Writings (1966)

Casual Mythology (1969)

The Special View of History (1970)

Additional Prose (1974)

The Post Office: A Memoir of His Father (1974)

Letters Letters for Origin (1969)

Charles Olson and Robert Creeley: The Complete Correspondence (1990)

Selected Letters (2000)


The Fiery Hunt and Other Plays (1977)

Notable Events

WWII and Black Mountain Arts

Because of the experimental artistic environment, during World War II, many artistic refugees were attracted to Black Mountain College. At BMC, they were allowed the freedom to try to succeed in many new things and that they did. Not only did the environment attract the artistic refugees, but by 1940, the faculty included some of the greatest artists and thinkers of the time. Some of these faculty members were the following: Josef and Anni Albers, Walter Gropius, Jacob Lawrence, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, John Cage, Alfred Kazin, Merce Cunningham, and Paul Goodman.

If this topic interest you, you should check out the documentary, Fully Awake: Black Mountain College which gives a detailed account on the influential experiment and how it shaped twentieth century art.

The Black Mountain Review

Photo courtesy of

Charles Olson not only got his dear friend, Robert Creeley, a job at Black Mountain College, but then appointed Creeley leader of the Black Mountain review. Creeley worked as a teacher and editor of the Black Mountain Review for two years, moving to San Francisco in 1957. There, he acted as a link between the Black Mountain poets and the Beats, many of whom he had published in the review.

According to Jed Birmingham, "Black Mountain Review remains one of the greatest little magazines of all time. The Review published key critical and creative work by Olson, Creeley, Zukofsky, and Duncan in addition to reproductions of work by Franz Kline, Aaron Suskind, and Harry Callahan (Creeley’s collection of Callahan’s photographs are available from Granary Books). The cover art of Black Mountain Review is striking. The first four issues were done by Katue Kitasono whose Black Rain was published by Divers Press. John Altoon provided the artwork for Issue Five, Dan Rice Issue Six and Ed Corbett Issue Seven. Each Issue of the Review captured the melting pot of literature, music, art, dance, and photography that made the College famous. The Review in form and content is an experiment in the arts.

Number Seven is the most influential issue of all. The editorship, like the College itself, was in disarray with Creeley and Allen Ginsberg each having a hand in it. The magazine appeared well after the College had closed in 1956. The range of work in Number Seven is much more diverse than previous issues with Ginsberg’s influence playing a major role in its contents. In 1956, Creeley and Ginsberg were in San Francisco and at the center of that city’s poetic renaissance. Philip Whalen, Gary Snyder, Ginsberg (as well as Michael Rumaker’s tough love review of Howl), and Jack Kerouac all appear in the issue, giving it a Beat feel."

The following article has more Black Mountain Review covers for your observation.

Birmingham, Jed. RealityStudio. "Black Mountain Review" 2010.

The New American Poetry 1945-1960

Donald Allen's anthology The New American Poetry was crucial in establishing a legacy in Black Mountain Poetry and in spreading its influences world wide.

Black Mountain College Project

"The justification for a university is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning." - Alfred North Whitehead The Aims of Education, l929

The Black Mountain College Project, founded by independent scholar Mary Emma Harris, is an effort to extensively document the writings, photographs, interviews, notes, and other materials from the Black Mountain College in order to create an easily accessible archive of the riches that the college produced.

Mission Statement:"The mission of the Black Mountain College Project is to ensure that the history and influence of Black Mountain College are preserved and documented for future generations. The Project was formed with the conviction that the story of this unique educational experiment is of lasting interest and that the memories of those who taught and studied at Black Mountain College are critical to an understanding of the dynamics and accomplishments of that community" (

The in progress Project is compiling over 30 years of research conducted on the college by Mary Emma Harris. The Project will display primary documents, over 200 interviews and transcriptions, biographies of faculty and students, works produced by the college, and information about Black Mountain College that came from publications.

"Black Mountain College Project." Black Mountain College Project / Home Page. Web. 28 Oct. 2010. <>.


Allen, Donald. The New American Poetry. New York: Grove, 1960. Print.

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4 Responses

  1. I really like how you tied the art of Jess Collins into the movement; the arts really are interdisciplinary and that shows through in your coverage of the movement. I also really like your layout and links are very professional.

  2. What is amazing to me is how much better this resource is than WIkipedia. What seems logical to me then is how do we get students to go through these projects and add the best and most appropriate stuff they have found to Wikipedia?

    I have a feeling this assignment could be a way to constantly give back to that resource that millions reference daily.

  3. Yea I agree with the Reverend. This is an excellent resource, and it’s heaps and heaps better than the Wikipedia page that I just viewed. Should we put this info up on Wikipedia? I mean, aren’t most people who are viewing the wikipedia page just looking for a few fast facts anyway?

    I assume that most people who are actually interested in learning about the black mountain poets would find the info they needed elsewhere. BUT, i bet a lot of those same people went to the wikipedia page for a hot sec first. So do we have to include some of the excellent info in this Report on Wikipedia? No, we don’t. But it’d be a lot cooler if we did.

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