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Black Mountain Writers

The Black Mountain Review, Origin, Letters for Origin, The New American Poetry

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a group of American poets and writers, who were associated with Black Mountain College in Asheville, North Carolina. Black Mountain College was established in 1933, largely funded by John Andrew Rice, as an experiment in communitarian, liberal arts education, but its fame as a centre of vibrant experimentation in the arts was largely made in the early 1950s. The philosopher John Dewey became a member of the college's advisory board, in its early years, but under the directorship of the painter Josef Albers in the 1940s the role of the college in the artistic life of America became more influential. As a consequence of Albers's leadership the college attracted the painters Willem de Koonig, Robert Motherwell, and Robert Rauschenberg; the musicians John Cage, Lou Harrison, and Heinrich Jalowetz; the choreographer Merce Cunningham; and the poets Robert Creeley, Robert Duncan, Charles Olson, and John Weiners. Olson was closely allied to the College from 1948 until as Rector he closed it down in 1956. During Olson's rectorship, Robert Duncan and Robert Creeley taught at the College, whilst such writers as Ed Dorn, Robert Kelly, Joel Oppenheimer, and Gilbert Sorrentino were among the students. Their poetry was published in The Black Mountain Review (19547), edited by Creeley, which became a focus for avant-garde writing; it also featured such writers as Tom Field, Michael Rumaker, Fielding Dawson, Jack Kerouac, Kenneth Rexroth, William Carlos Williams, Denise Levertov, Paul Blackburn, and Larry Eigner, some of them also associated with the Beats and the San Francisco Renaissance. They were generally indebted to the ‘open’ forms begun by Ezra Pound and continued by William Carlos Williams and Zukovfsky. The Black Mountain group proposed a physiology of consciousness as the basis for a formal revolution, as outlined in Olson's influential essay ‘Projective Verse’ (1950). Olsen proclaimed the necessity of avoiding ‘the lyrical interference of the individual as ego’ and, in seeking to redefine the structures of literacy itself, he advocated the necessity of manipulating syntax, typography, and logical structures. In his essay ‘Human Universe’ (1965), Olson described poetic activity not as referential or mimetic, but reality itself. The ‘open’ poetics urged a repositioning of the self, as a participating rather than dominating figure in larger, unknown forces. Much of this thought was developed in Olson's correspondence with Cid Corman, the editor of the magazine Origin, and can be seen in Olson's Letters for Origin (1969). With the publication of Donald Allen's influential anthology The New American Poetry (1960), the Black Mountain writers became recognized as a force in contemporary poetry which proposed an alternative Modernism to that constructed by T. S. Eliot and the New Criticism.

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