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Black Mountain College and Robert Duncan

Updated on April 24, 2020
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My name is Jamie Lee Hamann and I started sharing poetry articles back in 2013. Every year I share a poem a day in April.

Using Design-based Research to Further Learning Outcomes/Transformative Games
Using Design-based Research to Further Learning Outcomes/Transformative Games | Source

Bauhaus and Josef Albers

”This book presents results of search, not of what is academically called research…Instead, this book ends with an acknowledgement of my students who are the authors of the sample studies, and whom I therefore consider my own indirect but first collaborators.” Interactions of Color by Josef Albers published by Yale Press in 1974.

Josef Albers taught his Interactions of Color Course at the Bauhaus and took pride in the method of learning art examined in his course.

In the early 1930’s he moved to Black Mountain College near Asheville, North Carolina where he helped create the educational model of the school.

For twenty three years a small group of students and teachers rotated through the curriculum, a curriculum that experimented with learning as life. (Cotter,2015)

When Albers arrived in North Carolina he hardly spoke English and through sheer persistence turned his method of learning, honed in his Interactions of Color Course, and built an educational model that produced some of America’s greatest artists and poets.

Robert Duncan, in his Collected Interviews: 1960-1985, agreed with Albers and states “…you see there are no boundaries between poetry and painting or poetry and music.”(Duncan, 2012)

Albers centered his lessons around art but Black Mountain College remained a school of general studies that followed Dewey’s theories of education where the training taught students to be whole people. (Horowitz, 2000)

Robert Creeley and Robert Duncan

”Voices, images, times mingle and become transposed in a poetry in which a crowded traffic of ideas moves. It is the obscure medium, the thicket of impressions, of experience suffered without rest.” The H.D. Book by Robert Duncan published by University of California Press in 2011.

Robert Duncan moved onto the campus, of Black Mountain College, with his spouse Jess. He immediately took charge of the poetry department and following the guidelines to curriculum, put into place by Albers, quickly began coursework on word usage.

Robert Creeley ran the literature department of the college and invited his friend, Robert Duncan, to work with him to take advantage of this once in a lifetime educational experience.

Creeley gave him the freedom to teach poetry as he felt.

Duncan felt that word usage, grammar, and metric variety should be the foundation of an education in poetry. His classroom would be loud conversation on the placement of stress along with corresponding vowel placement. (Duncan, 2011)

His contemporaries were Eliot, Pound, Williams, Stein, and H.D and they helped him to build his vision on poem design and manufacturing.

He describes his curriculum in his Collected Interviews: 1960-1985: “What I am supplying is something like grammar of ornament, I mean grammar of design…Poetry was language charged.” (Duncan , 2011)

Robert Creeley
Robert Creeley | Source

Black Mountain Poets

”…we come to live in terms of imagined beings where we act not in our own best interest but in order to create fate or beauty or drama.” From The H.D. Book by Robert Duncan published by University of California Press in 2011.

Duncan worked with Kenneth Rexroth, and Denise Levertov in the poetry department.

Kenneth Rexroth displayed a taste for syllabics and Japanese Haiku and placed his energy in instruction of soft and hard vowel sounds.

Levertov built her own structured voice and taught courses on formalism with strong influence from Marianne Moore. (Duncan, 2011)

Each poet, allowed to create coursework of their own design, combined their voices to create a thorough and complete education in the art of poetry.

The Dogwood

The sink is full of dishes. Oh well.

Ten o’clock, there’s no

hot water.

The kitchen floor is unswept, the broom

has been shedding straws. Oh well.

The cat is sleeping. Nikolai is sleeping,

Mitch is sleeping, early to bed,

aspirin for a cold. Oh well.

No school tomorrow, someone for lunch,

4 dollars left from the 10 - how did that go?

Mostly on food. Oh well.

I could decide

to hear some chamber music

and today I saw - what?

Well, some huge soft deep

blackly gazing purple

and red (and pale)

anemones. Does that

take my mind off the dishes?

And dogwood besides.

Oh well. Early to bed, and I’ll get up

early put

a shine on everything and write

a letter to Duncan later that will shine too

with moonshine. Can I make it? Oh well.

Denise Levertov, Collected Earlier Poems 1940 - 1960


Identity seems to be a key question when examining our past experience.

This question of identity, when examined, points to multiple categories during the many phases of life.

A duality that is confusing.

My early twenties saw the extreme lifestyles of Burroughs, Kerouac, and Ginsberg. A lifestyle that excited my leftist agenda and for awhile Shakespeare fell away and was replaced by a drug induced free verse.

Sometimes it is easy to get lost in ones identity and traveling like Kerouac and partying like Ginsberg took a toll on me and my identity.

As I matured I began to understand a happiness found in a more conservative life.

I found myself breaking away from the Beats and falling back into reading what I call conservative poets like Dylan Thomas, Ezra Pound, and T.S. Eliot.

Somewhere along this path in finding a new identity I bought a copy of “H.D.” by Robert Duncan. Six hundred pages written on the topic of poetry.

H.D” led me to ”A Poet’s Mind: Collected Interviews with Robert Duncan: 1960-1985” where I found Black Mountain College and an experimental organization created by the Bauhaus artist Josef Albers.

This study into these texts and Black Mountain Poets has been ongoing since 2011. In 2011 I wrote my first ”Letters to/from….” a response to Josef Albers text ”Interactions of color.”

From Letter to Josef Albers on his "Interaction of Colors"

A few years back I dipped my brush in paints
and studied works of classic modern tones,
so hello Josef Albers, stamps with saints
adorn this letter, Yale or Bauhuas bound,
to think that maybe words on works create
within my world a colorful soft sound
of notes your students standing still like Klee
would hear in bristled brush like Kandinsky.

Your book begins to shape my words again,
you take me to how color truly shapes
a harmony of multiple versed tones,
a wave of harmonics, to paint, reshape
each song, each color never acts alone
to leave the viewers eyes and mouth agape.
A symphony with carefully planned chords,
with light a little hint, taste of discord.

Through color instruments I hope to float
how music may have notes to stack upon
each bar, and painting colors brushed with thought
create a lasting memory of song,
with words each pen has carefully sought out
a secret into processes of time.
I'm glad I opened up your book
with ever eager mind, to take a look.

Jamie Lee Hamann

A Spectre In Every Street:  George Oppen and the Poetics of Communism - Viewpoint
A Spectre In Every Street: George Oppen and the Poetics of Communism - Viewpoint | Source


Cotter, H. (2005). The short life and legacy of Black Mountain College. The New York Times.

Horowitz, F. (2000). What Josef Albers taught at Black Mountain College and what Black Mountain College taught Albers. Black Mountain Studies Journal.

Albers, J. (1974). Interaction of Color. Yale Press. 1-81. 75.

Duncan, R. (2011). The H.D. Book. University of California Press Berkley and Los Angeles California. 1-646. 392.

Duncan, R. (2012). A Poet’s Mind: Collected Interviews with Robert Duncan, 1960-1985. North Atlantic Books Berkley California. 1-458. 130-348.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Jamie Lee Hamann


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