August 10, 2011



Begun in 1933 as an experimental school based on the principles of John Dewey, Black Mountain College, located in rural North Carolina, quickly attracted a large number of artists, dancers, writers, musicians, and other avant-gardists, including figures such as Josef Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius and Charles Olson. The College also invited numerous important figures for guest lectures, Albert Einstein, Clement Greenberg, and William Carlos Williams, among them.

In 1950 Charles Olson became the College Rector, the same year he published his seminal essay, "Projective Verse," which called for an "open field" composition opposed to traditional, more closed forms. For Olson poetry was to be based on the line, and the line represented a unit of breath, an utterance that lead from "one perception immediately directly [leading] to a further perception."

The essay, highly influential, became a kind of manifesto for the poets and students he had gathered around him at the College. These poets included Larry Eigner, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, Paul Blackburn, Hilda Morley, John Wieners, Denise Levertov, Jonathan Williams, and Robert Creeley, the latter who taught at the College and edited for two years its Black Mountain Review, before moving to San Francisco, when the College closed in 1957.

Other poets associated with this broadly-based group, included Paul Blackburn, Paul Carroll, William Bronk, Cid Corman, Joel Oppenheimer, Theodore Enslin, Ebbe Borregard, Russell Edson, M. C. Richards, and Michael Rumaker, some of whom did not attend the College but were influenced, nonetheless, by the poetry and Olson's viewpoints. Indeed, numerous other poets, including Beat writers such as Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and other figures such as Gary Synder, Michael McClure, and Philip Whalen were also influenced in their poetry and poetics.

The "group" has had wide influence over the years, not only for American poets such as the "Language" writers, but has effected British poets such as Tom Raworth, J. H. Prynne, and others.

There have been numerous books on Black Mountain College and the Black Mountain Poets, including:

Steven Carter, Bearing Across: Studies in Science and Literature (Oxford, England: International Scholars Publications, 1999); Fielding Dawson, The Black Mountain Book, a New Edition (Rocky Mount, North Carolina: North Carolina Wesleyan College Press, 1991); Edward Halsey Foster, Understanding the Black Mountain Poets (Columbia, South Carolina, 1995); Melvin Lane, ed. Black Mountain College: An Anthology of Personal Accounts (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990); and Sherman Paul, Olson's Push: Origin, Black Mountain and Recent American Poetry (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1978). Martin Duberman's Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community (New York: Dutton, 1972) explores the wider implications of the College.

—Douglas Messerli

For a site devoted to The Black Mountain Poets, click here:

For an audio of Robert Creeley discussing Black Mountain College and his relationship to it, click here:

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