Affiliated by place and not necessarily by style or substance, the renown of the Black Mountain poets rests on their creative innovations, such as the invention of projective verse, and their links to the Beat movement. The poets attended Black Mountain... [more]
Affiliated by place and not necessarily by style or substance, the renown of the Black Mountain poets rests on their creative innovations, such as the invention of projective verse, and their links to the Beat movement. The poets attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina, the famous experimental arts school whose alumni include such pioneering figures as John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Buckminster Fuller. But it was the school's poetry contingent that garnered the most acclaim. Charles Olson, the rector of the college, developed the aesthetics of projective verse with the intellectual contributions of Ezra Pound, W.C. Williams, Robert Creeley, and Ed Dahlberg. It involves what Olson called 'composition by field' in which the poem is a means of transferring energy to the reader through the tension of language. Unlike Confessional poets, who mediate language, meaning, and image to relate their experiences and worldviews, the Black Mountain poets realized that language itself mediates meaning. The poem became a field of play, an ongoing process of intuition and sincerity in which the poem is re-written (in a sense) every time the poem is read.
Robert Creeley, king of the cerebral understatement, who taught and edited the famed Black Mountain Review in the mid-1950s, moved to San Francisco and hooked up with the Beat poets. Robert Duncan, an early leader of the San Francisco Renaissance, amassed poetic plaudits for his intensely ironic, yet lyric, style. Denise Levertov's deceptively neutral, conversational tone packed an emotional wallop, earning her major poet status. Though widely admired and imitated in their time, by the mid-1960s, artistic aims exhausted, the Black Mountain poets disbanded, pouring their individual efforts into the poetic mainstream, where urgent political, civil, and ecological concerns outweighed the negligible aesthetic distinctions of separatist literary movements. While the movement ended, the innovations of the Black Mountain poets raised questions about language that the Language poets would investigate in the 1970s and '80s.