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This review is taken from PN Review 236, Volume 43 Number 6, July - August 2017.

Cover of The Black Mountain Letters: Poems & Essays
Lucy BurnsBebop Agility Jonathan Creasy, The Black Mountain Letters: Poems & Essays
(Dalkey Archive Press) $15.00.

Jonathan Creasy’s ‘new form of expository elegy’ constructs a personal history of Black Mountain College to jointly mourn the loss of his mother (who sadly died while Creasy was working on the project), and the closure of the experimental arts college, whose key figures are remembered and elegised like extended relatives. Through a complex layering of essays, memoir, interviews, archival material, and poetry, Creasy makes a bold claim to a piece of Black Mountain history and to ‘affinities’ with some of Black Mountain’s most famous faculty poets – Charles Olson, Robert Creeley, and Robert Duncan. Despite Creasy’s interesting push for a hybrid form, The Black Mountain Letters perfectly demonstrates the strange allure of Black Mountain: the seemingly irresistible temptation for those studying the college of trying to participate in its incredible past in some way by writing oneself into its history.

Martin Duberman’s first history of the college, Black Mountain: An Experiment in Education (1972) set the precedent for this. Duberman moves between meticulous reconstructions of the daily life of the college from extensive archive research, and meta-textual digressions on his struggles to finish the book and his attempts to apply the college’s ‘group process’ teaching method to his seminars. In an uncomfortable interview at the start of his project, Duberman is warned by Josef Albers not to try to ‘repeat Black Mountain College’, instead, Albers explains, ‘this work on Black Mountain must directly or indirectly state some growth in your mind[.]’ Duberman’s mistake is his literal reading of Albers’s advice (‘you’re ...


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