The Black Mountain poets were so named for their association with the experimental Black Mountain College in North Carolina from 1933 until 1956. Their progressive and nontraditional take on poetry was coined ‘projective verse’ by Charles Olson, a founding member of the movement. The approach entails a focus on the creative process rather than a focus on the finished product, and encourages the poet to project the emotional energy of each work onto the reader. Emphasis was put on spontaneity, a lack of subjectivity, and natural rhythms and patterns, such as breath. Black Mountain College was at the forefront of schools teaching the importances of the creative arts to humanity. The poets of the Black Mountain School were stylistically different, but all together they were extremely influential in their shared creative approach and philosophy.
- Robert Creeley
- Influenced by poets like Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams, Creeley picked up where Objectivism and Modernism left off. His time at Black Mountain College started when he was invited by Olson to edit the Black Mountain Review. During his prolific career, he published more than sixty books of poetry. He’s known for his idiosyncratic, concise, and emotionally powerful verse.
- Robert Duncan
- His early influences include Abstract Expressionism, American Surrealism, and the San Francisco Renaissance. In 1947, Olson invited Duncan to teach at Black Mountain College. Duncan was inspired by Olson’s theory of writing in the poet’s breath. He drew on myth, occultism, religion, and politics for subject matter. His poetry is known for his unique use of archaic diction and complex repetition.
- Denise Levertov
- Though British by birth, in 1947 Levertov married an American writer and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 1956. It was after her move to America that she became influenced by the Transcendentalism of Emerson and Thoreau and the Modernist styles of Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams. She met Olson through her husband and became associated with the Black Mountain poets. When she started adding socio-political influences to her poetry, she drifted away from the School. She is known for her open style, simple imagery, and intense and immediate language.
- Charles Olson
- Perhaps as seen by the other bios of the influential Black Mountain poets, Olson was the spark that seemed to draw everyone together. In 1950, he published his influential and important essay “Projective Verse”—by 1951 he was hired at Black Mountain College where he’d eventually become the rector. His interest in the poetry of breath, active imagery, spontaneity, and juxtapositions were all pieces of his influential style. He too was influenced by Ezra Pound and Modernism, and it shows in the intense imagery and fluid variation of form.
The Reading List
- “For Love” by Robert Creeley
“Love, what do I think
to say. I cannot say it.
What have you become to ask,
what have I made you into,
companion, good company,
crossed legs with skirt, or
soft body under
the bones of the bed.
Nothing says anything
but that which it wishes
would come true, fears
what else might happen in
some other place, some
other time not this one…”
- “Often I Am Permitted to Return to a Meadow” by Robert Duncan
“as if it were a scene made-up by the mind,
that is not mine, but is a made place,
that is mine, it is so near to the heart,
an eternal pasture folded in all thought
so that there is a hall therein
that is a made place, created by light
wherefrom the shadows that are forms fall.”
- “The Secret” by Denise Levertov
“Two girls discover
the secret of life
in a sudden line of
- “As the Dead Prey Upon Us” by Charles Olson
“As the dead prey upon us,
they are the dead in ourselves,
awake, my sleeping ones, I cry out to you,
disentangle the nets of being!”