Allen’s anthology, The New American Poetry: 1945-1960, included eleven poets in the Black Mountain poets section: Olson, Creeley, Robert Duncan, Edward Dorn, Denise Levertov, Larry Eigner, Paul Blackburn, John Wieners, Jonathan Williams, Joel Oppenheimer, and Hilda Morley.
Charles Olson (1910-1970) was a professor and rector (1951-1957) at Black Mountain College. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Olson had studied at both Harvard and Wesleyan. With a Guggenheim Fellowship, he continued studying the works of Herman Melville. Olson’s ideas about poetry were an important part of the style of the avant-garde poets of the Black Mountain School. Olson devised the theory of projective verse and wrote of it in a 1950 essay. He proclaimed that a poem is energy; the poet transfers or projects the energy from its source through the poem to the reader. The source of the energy varies from poem to poem, but the purpose of the poem is discharging the energy. Olson stressed that the length of the line is the breath of the poet. He noted that the poet could narrow the unit of structure to fit an utterance or breath; as a result of this contraction, the poetic diction might employ a distinctive style, for instance “yr” for “your.”
There is not one poetic style that is followed by all the Black Mountain poets; they do, however, seem committed to open form. Open form replaced the traditional closed poetic forms used by earlier writers. The poetry of the Black Mountain poets could no longer be evaluated using the criteria of effective use of traditional poetic rules and conventional forms. Many essayists and critics still classify contemporary poets who work in projective verse, who use open form, and who attend to utterance or breath as members of the Black Mountain School.
In addition to producing his theory of projective verse, Olson was a prolific writer. More than one hundred of his shorter poems appeared in Archaeologist of Morning: The Collected Poems Outside the Maximus Series (1970), published by Cape Goliard in London. Olson’s most sustained poetic effort, however, was The Maximus Poems (1953-1983), a sequence published in numerous volumes. In 1987, the University of California Press published The Collected Poems of Charles Olson: Excluding “The Maximus Poems.” Selected Poems (1997) was edited by Creeley, another original Black Mountain poet.
Robert Creeley (1926-2005) was born in Arlington, Massachusetts. He lived in Asia, Europe, and Latin America before coming to teach at Black Mountain College in 1955 and serving as editor of Black Mountain Review from 1955. When Creeley left two years later when the college closed, he became the Black Mountain poets’ link to Allen Ginsberg and the Beat poets and the poets of the San Francisco Renaissance. Two collections capture most of Creeley’s poetic works: The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1945-1975 (1982) and The Collected Poems of Robert Creeley, 1975-2005 (2006).
Robert Duncan (1919-1988) taught at Black Mountain College from 1955 through 1957. Born in Oakland, California, this Black Mountain poet later became a leader of the San Francisco Renaissance. Two collections of Duncan’s poems that include individualistic spellings (utterances) are Derivations: Selected Poems, 1950-1956 and The First Decade: Selected Poems, 1940-1950, both published by Fulcrum Press in London in 1969.
Reared in the rural poverty of Villa Grove, Illinois, during the Great Depression, Edward Dorn (1929-1999) studied at the University of Illinois and at Black Mountain College (1950-1955). Dorn, with Duncan, Creeley, and Olson, became a Black Mountain poet. Olson influenced Dorn’s concept of poetry, and Creeley was one of Dorn’s...