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Black Mountain Poets

What do you do when your ideas and style simply don't fit in with the mainstream? How do you express yourself without having to conform? For some poets, the answer is to create a unique outlet and group of like-minded creatives to express their ideas in a safe environment where there is acceptance. The Black Mountain Poets were a group of progressive writers associated with Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Although the period the Black Mountain Poets were together is brief, their influence is far-reaching. 

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Black Mountain Poets

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What do you do when your ideas and style simply don't fit in with the mainstream? How do you express yourself without having to conform? For some poets, the answer is to create a unique outlet and group of like-minded creatives to express their ideas in a safe environment where there is acceptance. The Black Mountain Poets were a group of progressive writers associated with Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Although the period the Black Mountain Poets were together is brief, their influence is far-reaching.

Black Mountain College was founded in 1933 by John Andrew Rice. The private liberal arts college was located in Black Mountain, North Carolina, and emphasized holistic learning. The progressive school believed in an interdisciplinary approach to learning and included a diverse faculty of creatives, philosophers, composers, and designers. The school saw a period of immense growth during the 1930s and 1940s and influenced many innovative and creative thinkers. The college has served as a model for alternative higher education institutions, such as the University of California and Hampshire College.

Black Mountain Poets, Black Mountain North Carolina, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Black Mountain College was located in scenic Black Mountain North Carolina.

Black Mountain Poets in American Literature

The Black Mountain Poets in American literature maintained an impact on the American poetic scene for a little over twenty years, from the early 1930s to the late 1950s. Although the poetry birthed from this group during the movement seems diverse in style and topic, one central characteristic seems to unite them in the realm of American literature. The poets used what is known as projective verse.

Identified by Charles Olsen (1910-1970) as open field writing, this is a difficult form to master. The style replaces poems' traditional meter and structure with a more dynamic and reactionary form. As it is written, the poem takes the shape it needs as dictated by the subject matter. Each line of the poem enhances the overall meaning and contains the idea of utterance. Each line of the poem only contains enough information in what can be spoken in one breath of speech. This forces the poet to carefully consider the diction used and manipulate the poetic form to adhere to this guideline.

Black Mountain Poets Timeline

The Black Mountain Poets found a central location at Black Mountain College, which used its progressive curriculum and instruction design to educate the whole person by focusing on the arts and artistic expression as central to an understanding of the self and the world. Black Mountain College began in 1933. It was run by a collection of academics who had been unhappy with their current institution and felt the curriculum stifling. They welcomed a renewed form of education that put the student, and their creativity, at the center of knowledge and exploration. It focused on collaborative education, experiential learning, and the idea that education should be for the betterment of society and democracy. While open, it welcomed many influential writers, artists, and musicians. Notable visitors included Albert Einstein (1879-1955), Aldous Huxley (1894-1963), Langston Hughes (1902-1967), Anni Albers (1899-1994), and Zora Neal Hurston (1891-1960).

In 1950, Charles Olson became a rector of Black Mountain College. Unhappy with the current journals, such as Origins, and their lack of crucial pieces, in 1954, Olson founded the Black Mountain Review. Along with his colleague Creely, Olson began the Black Mountain poets or progressive poets. To help their unique form and desire to keep each line a complete idea and full utterance, the group developed their own form of diction, often connected with the later Beat Generation of poets. Black Mountain College closed in 1956 due to a lack of funding, marking the end of the Black Mountain poets.

Black Mountain Poets' Characteristics

The Black Mountain Poets group formed in response to the poetic traditions followed by poets like T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). They favored a more freestyle form and were more aligned with modernist poets and writers like William Carlos Williams (1883-1963). Olson's essay "Projective Verse" (1950) expressed his view on the creative process and shared how the poem was a transfer of energy from the poet to the reader. This became their platform. While the group had a substantial amount of their early work published in the journal Origin (1951-1956), its life was short. They were unhappy with the journal's lack of critical material, and so formed the Black Mountain Review (1954-1957). Their poetry was noted for its reliance on colloquial language. Other characteristics of the Black Mountain poets include, but are not limited to:

  • A value of experimentation
  • An emphasis on the creative process
  • Precise language and direct statements
  • A use of metonymy
  • Direct diction
  • An improvised poetic form
  • A concept called utterance
  • Emphasis on nature
  • Fragmented lines

Black Mountain Poets Group

The central figures often associated with the Black Mountain Poets group include:

Robert Creeley

The American poet Robert White Creeley (1926-2005) was born in Arlington, Massachusetts, in 1926. Creeley's father died when Creeley was only about four years old, and his mother and sister raised him. Although he attended Harvard, he left to serve in the American Field Service for one year as an ambulance driver. He would eventually earn his graduate degree from the University of New Mexico. Creeley frequently communicated with William Carlos Williams, who was instrumental in helping him meet Charles Olson. Creeley was editor of the Black Mountain Review and helped Olson found it. Creeley and Olson worked closely together, developed the idea of projective verse, and both believed that a poem's form should help convey its overall message.

Black Mountain Poets, Magazines, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Robert White Creely and Charles Olsen founded the Black Mountain Review.

Robert Duncan

Robert Edward Duncan (1919-1988) was an American poet born in January 1919. He began his poetry writing as a teenager and studied for two years at the University of California in Berkeley. He moved to New York in 1938. It was there where he became enthralled in the literary and artistic movement of the time, and helped found the Experimental Review. As editor of the journal in 1940 and 1941, he published works by notable writers like Henry Miller (1891-1980) and Lawrence Durrell (1912-1990). Charles Olson invited him to teach at Black Mountain College in 1956. During this period, he developed some of his most famous works, including his collection called The Opening of the Field (1973).

Charles Olson

Charles Olson (1910-1970) was born in December of 1910. As an American essayist and poet, he was an extremely influential force in Modern American poetry and served as a connection between many other poets such as Ezra Pound (1885-1972), Paul Blackburn (1927-1971), and Denise Levertov (1923-1997). He had an extremely close and productive professional relationship with Robert Creeley, who helped him establish the Black Mountain Review and edited his volume of Selected Poems (1993).

Other notable figures of the movement are:

  • Larry Eigner (1927-1996)
  • Ed Dorn (1929-1999)
  • Joel Oppenheimer (1930-1988)
  • John Wieners (1934-2002)
  • Hilda Morley (1916-1998)
  • Denise Levertov (1923-1997)

Black Mountain Poetry Examples

While the Black Mountain poets covered a wide range of topics and subject matter within their poetry, they often had similar features in form and structure. Their writing became unique and individual in rejecting the standard forms of poetry seen in English poems.

And we are all there together
time will wave as willows do
and adios will be truly, yes,
laughing at what is forgotten
and talking of what's new
admiring the roses you brought.
How sad.

("If I Should Ever Come" by Ed Dorn lines 1-7)

The lines are fragmented, short, and contain just enough information to propel the reader forward to the next idea. Diction is direct, while the images are clean and precise.

Diction is the word choice the writer uses to establish tone and mood.

Black Mountain Poets, Willow by Pond, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Willows wave in the wind as time is described.

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.

("For Love" by Robert Creeley lines 37-44)

Creeley uses an experimental form to break up long ideas into short sentences and create powerful images with details and alliteration. The hard "b" sound in "body under/the bones" creates an emphasis and shows the strong contradiction between the soft flesh and hard bones.

Alliteration is the repetition of the consonant sound in a series of words near each other within the verse. It is often at the start of the words and can help establish a rhythm and emphasis on ideas.

Midnite
Drops on the train window wobble . stream
My trouble
is
it is her fate to never learn to make
anything grow
be born or stay
Harbor beginnings and that other gleam . The train

("Brooklyn Narcissus" by Paul Blackburn lines 12-19)

In this excerpt, Paul Blackburn, an editor for the Black Mountain Review, experiments with spacing and uses enjambment to move the narrative forward and create tension in the poem.

Black Mountain Poets - Key takeaways

  • The Black Mountain Poets was a group of writers who broke from the traditional forms of poetry and created a new unique form based on the progression from one line to the next.
  • They favored a more freestyle form and were more aligned with modernist poets.
  • Olson's essay "Projective Verse" (1950) expressed his view on the creative process and shared how the poem was a transfer of energy from the poet to the reader. This became their platform.
  • The Black Mountain Poets formed at Black Mountain College under the direction of Charles Olson. Black Mountain College closed in 1956 due to a lack of funding, marking the end of the Black Mountain poets.
  • They were an influential group that used their resources to breathe new life into poetry and changed the way poets and readers approach the poetic form.

Frequently Asked Questions about Black Mountain Poets

The Black Mountain Poets in American literature maintained an impact on the American poetic scene for a little over twenty years, from the early 1930s to the late 1950s. Although the poetry that was birthed from this group during the movement seems diverse in style and topic, there is one central characteristic that seems to unite them in the real of American literature. The poets used what is known as projective verse.

The three central figures in the Black Mountain Poets group are Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan. 

The characteristics of Black Mountain poetry include:

  • A value of experimentation
  • An emphasis on the creative process
  • Precise language and direct statements
  • A use of metonymy
  • Direct diction
  • An improvised poetic form
  • A concept called utterance
  • Emphasis on nature
  • Fragmented lines

 

Black Mountain School of poetry is a literary movement that began in the 1930s and emphasized a new form of poetry that focuses on an experimental form and a line by line progression of ideas. 

Black Mountain Poetry spanned from the early 1930s to the late 1950s. 

Final Black Mountain Poets Quiz

Black Mountain Poets Quiz - Teste dein Wissen

Question

Where did the Black Mountain Poets begin? 

Show answer

Answer

The Black Mountain Poets began at Black Mountain College. 

Show question

Question

All of the following poets were part of the Black Mountain School of poetry EXCEPT:

Show answer

Answer

Ezra Pound

Show question

Question

Who was rector of Black Mountain College? 

Show answer

Answer

Charles Olson became rector of Black Mountain College. 

Show question

Question

What two poets founded the Black Mountain Review?

Show answer

Answer

Charles Olson and Robert Creeley founded the Black Mountain Review.

Show question

Question

All of the following were charactertistics of the Black Mountain Poets' writing EXCEPT:

Show answer

Answer

A strong adherence to traditional poetic forms

Show question

Question

What closed down Black Mountain College and consequently ended the Black Mountain Poets? 

Show answer

Answer

The college closed because it lacked funding. 

Show question

Question

What journal did Robert Creeley edit while at Black Mountain College? 

Show answer

Answer

Creeley edited the Black Mountain Review.

Show question

Question

The Black Mountain Poets are also known as the 

Show answer

Answer

progressive poets.

Show question

Question

Who wrote the essay "Projective Verse" which formed the foundation of the Black Mountain Poets's beliefs? 

Show answer

Answer

Charles Creeley wrote "Projective Verse" and published it in 1950.

Show question

Question

What type of language does Black Mountain poetry often use? 

Show answer

Answer

Colloquial language

Show question

Flashcards in Black Mountain Poets10

Start learning

Where did the Black Mountain Poets begin? 

The Black Mountain Poets began at Black Mountain College. 

All of the following poets were part of the Black Mountain School of poetry EXCEPT:

Ezra Pound

Who was rector of Black Mountain College? 

Charles Olson became rector of Black Mountain College. 

What two poets founded the Black Mountain Review?

Charles Olson and Robert Creeley founded the Black Mountain Review.

All of the following were charactertistics of the Black Mountain Poets' writing EXCEPT:

A strong adherence to traditional poetic forms

What closed down Black Mountain College and consequently ended the Black Mountain Poets? 

The college closed because it lacked funding. 

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