The Black Mountain Archive

by Brian Howe on December 17, 2010

Charles Olson

Yesterday, Alexis Mastromichalis wrote about dance, music, and visual art at Black Mountain College, in a post summarizing the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s beginnings and endings. But those are only a few facets of the impactful artistic activities that went on at the College in its brief lifespan. The Black Mountain poets, also known, in some cases, as “the Projectivists,” included a dazzling array of postmodern titans—Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, Denise Levertov, Robert Duncan, and many more—who acted as a bridge between the Beats and the Language Poets. Olson was among the most influential; his essay “Projective Verse” argued for the “open form” in poetry, as opposed to the closed forms that dominated its history.

As part of the Independent Weekly’s Hopscotch Music Festival last September, I moderated a panel about Black Mountain poetry at the Raleigh City Museum. Duke Performances Marketing Director Ken Rumble, Coordinator of Artist Engagements Meg Stein, and Thread contributor Chris Vitiello staged a “happening” of the Cagean sort Mastromichalis described yesterday. The Raleigh-based poet Chris Tonelli—a small press publisher and organizer of the So-and-So Reading Series—read and discussed the poetry of Black Mountain’s Jonathan Williams, who was better known as a publisher than a poet until recent years. And Andrew Whiteman, the guitarist for the Canadian indie rock band Broken Social Scene, gave a wonderfully animated reading from Ed Dorn’s hallucinatory postmodern Western poem, The Gunslinger.

After the panel, I was approached by Ashley Yandle of the North Carolina State Archives, which are located just a couple blocks from the Raleigh City Museum. From Ms. Yandle, I leanred that the NC State Archive holds the records from Black Mountain College, which are available for curious viewers to see. If you are looking to learn more about Black Mountain as the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s performance in February approaches, it’s an invaluable resource—and who knows what else you’ll learn about NC history while trawling through. Start at the Archive’s website and blog, and then peruse this list of Black Mountain material it holds. They also have a lot of archival photos on their Flickr page, including these great shots of Robert Rauschenberg.

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