What I’m learning at this Black Mountain North Symposium are community and energy. Black Mountain College with all its writers, artists, mathematicians, physicists, language teachers, et. al., had community and energy. Well, I knew that, and you probably did, too. What I didn’t know was that the community could even be seen in the school directory. It listed all the students first under the heading Community. Then it listed the faculty, the maintenance people, and the cooks. But there is more to community than that directory. That’s just an example of how unconscious it was.
There is the community of help, as well, and celebration. Back then when a Black Mountain person produced a journal, like Origin, Jargon, Black Mountain Review, et. al., the journal mattered. The editors actually published writers they believed in. Writers they thought needed recognition. Writers they wanted to celebrate. And, as a result, those journals had energy rising from passion.
The remains of all of that has been gathered by John Roche and put on display here as one entity at the Black Mountain North Symposium at the Rochester Institute of Technology. This conference is not only lectures that celebrate Black Mountain College and some of its writers and artists, such as Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Jonathan Williams, but the conference also gathers a few people who actually attended Black Mountains College. Students. Students who are now 81 years old. (Martha Rittenhouse who studied with Josef Albers and Charles Olson in 1947-48, Basil King who attended Black Mountain College as a teenager and completed an apprenticeship as an abstract expressionist in San Francisco and New York, and Martha King who attended Black Mountain College in the summer of 1955.) That is an amazing feat, and it will probably be the last time a gathering like this happens.
I just haven’t found the right moment. He seems approachable. I did say hi to him, but then wasn’t the time to go any further.
Oh, and Robert Creeley’s wife, Penelope, is also here, despite her good friend and poet Michael Gizzi passing away the other day.
But as I said, there is more than the lectures. There are those people I just mentioned. The students. The students with their stories. Students telling stories of the past. The past with detail. Stories of the chemistry building burning down, and the students helping to reconstruct it. Stories of farming together. Stories of washing their dishes. Stories of the parties. And stories of the competition to make the best, perfect piece of art. But not a competition with each other, but with themselves. A competition to make something wonderful for class the next day.
I feel sentimental. I miss Black Mountain College, and I’ve never been there. Black Mountain College formed in 1933 and closed in 1957. (For a brief history, go here: http://blackmountaincollege.org/content/view/12/52/.) I’ve even read a lot about Black Mountain College via Martin Duberman’s Black Mountain: An Exploration in Community and Fielding Dawson’s The Black Mountain Book. The former written by a historian; the latter by a student of Black Mountain College, who was also an amazing fiction writer. And I’ve read a ton of Olson, Creeley, Cid Corman, Robert Duncan, Williams, Sanders, et. al. But I never felt like I was at Black Mountain until today. My sentiments feel deep and strong. I’m sad it’s gone. I’m happy for this conference.
I feel like I’m a champion of poetry. I try to champion poetry and poets when and where I can, but I feel I’m not doing it well enough. With not enough integrity. I want to start a press to help poetry more and more poets, but really that won’t help. I need more integrity like the Black Mountain writers. I need a community and energy.
Where is today’s energy and community? Is it in the MFA programs with two- to three-year-long communities? If so, that is not enough. Those communities dissolve fast after graduation but not nearly as fast as the energy.
Energy depends on community. I would like to find or shape a new community. A community of help and celebration and the championing of poetry. Who wants to join? How shall we join? How will we connect? Is the I-90 Manifesto and Poetry Revolution the road to community? Let’s hope so.
Let’s make for the altar of imagination some sign, some image complex, some community of energy.//