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Related Prose
"A Drama of Truth": Robert Duncan and Tradition
by Brian Teare
Groundbreaking Book: Bending the Bow by Robert Duncan (1968)
Groundbreaking Book: For Love by Robert Creeley (1962)
Groundbreaking Book: The Maximus Poems by Charles Olson (1960)
Robert Duncan and Romantic Synthesis
by Michael Palmer
Great Anthology: Naked Poetry and The New Naked Poetry
Robert Creeley: Picking Up the Painting's Vibes
Making It Sweet Again: On Manifestos by Olson, O'Hara, and Bernstein
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Related Authors
Charles Olson
Charles Olson
Born in 1910, poet Charles Olson served as the rector at Black Mountain College in North Carolina...
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Denise Levertov
Denise Levertov
Denise Levertov was born in Ilford, Essex, England, on October 24, 1923....
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Robert Creeley
Robert Creeley
Robert Creeley was born in Arlington, Massachusetts, on May 21, 1926. He attended...
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Robert Duncan
Robert Duncan
Born on January 7, 1919 in Oakland, California, Robert Duncan is the author of numerous collections of poetry...
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A Brief Guide to the Black Mountain School


Black Mountain College, located in a collection of church buildings in Black Mountain, North Carolina, was an educational experiment that lasted from 1933 to 1956. It was one of the first schools to stress the importance of teaching creative arts and that, in combination with technical and analytical skills, the arts are essential to human understanding. The group of influential poets who studied, taught, or were associated with the school included Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, and Charles Olson. Though these poets' work was remarkably different, they shared creative philosophies that came to be known as "projective verse."

Olson, who taught at the college from 1948 to 1956 and was its last Rector, coined the term "projective verse" in 1950. The ideas of projective verse centered around process rather than product, and owes much to objectivists like William Carlos Williams and modernists like Ezra Pound. This "composition by field" urges poets to simultaneously remove their subjectivity from their poems and "project" the energy of their work directly to the reader. Spontaneity and "the act of the poem" therefore take the place of reason and description.

Creeley was a student and a teacher at the college. At once Olson's pupil and his peer, Creeley quickly became a tremendously influential figure, especially as editor of the groundbreaking Black Mountain Review. Derived from the same theories, Olson's work was expansive and filled the page while Creeley's operated by means of compressed, narrow columns.

Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov spent time at the college, became prominent projectivist figures, and were themselves a dichotomous pair. Intimate friends for years, the relationship between the two became strained when Levertov deviated from Duncan's "grand collage" poetics and infused humanist politics into her verse.

The projectivist approach extended easily into open long-forms, beautifully rendered--some might say completed--in Olson's Maximus poems, Creeley's Pieces, and Duncan's "Structure of Rime" and "Passages."

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