Although it lasted only twenty-three years (1933-1956) and enrolled fewer than 1,200 students, Black Mountain College was one of the most fabled experimental institutions in art education and practice. It launched a remarkable number of the artists who spearheaded the avant-garde in the America of the 1960s. It boasted an extraordinary curriculum in the visual, literary, and performing arts as evidenced by some of the artists and teachers listed here:
Its art teachers included Anni & Josef Albers, Eric Bentley, Ilya Bolotowsky, Willem & Elaine de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Lyonel Feininger, Franz Kline, Walter Gropius and Robert Motherwell. Among their students were John Chamberlain, Kenneth Noland, Robert Rauschenberg, Dorothea Rockburne, and Cy Twombly.
The performing arts teachers included John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Lou Harrison, Roger Sessions, David Tudor, and Stefan Wolpe. Among the literature teachers and students were Robert Creeley, Fielding Dawson, Ed Dorn, Robert Duncan, Paul Goodman, Francine du Plessix Gray, Charles Olson, M. C. Richards, Ruth Asawa, Arthur Penn, Kenneth Snelson, Stan Vanderbeek, José Yglesias, and John Wieners. Guest lecturers included Albert Einstein, Clement Greenberg, and William Carlos Williams.
It was a unique educational experiment for the artists and writers who conducted it. Not a haphazardly conceived venture, Black Mountain College was a consciously directed liberal arts school that grew out of the progressive education movement.
In 1950, Olson published his seminal essay, Projective Verse. In this, he called for a poetry of "open field" composition to replace traditional closed poetic forms with an improvised form that should reflect exactly the content of the poem. This form was to be based on the line, and each line was to be a unit of breath and of utterance. The content was to consist of "one perception immediately and directly (leading) to a further perception". This essay was to become a kind of de facto manifesto for the Black Mountain poets. One of the effects of narrowing the unit of structure in the poem down to what could fit within an utterance was that the Black Mountain poets developed a distinctive style of poetic diction (e.g. "yr" for "your").
In addition to Olson, the poets most closely associated with Black Mountain include Larry Eigner, Robert Duncan, Ed Dorn, Paul Blackburn, Hilda Morley, John Wieners, Joel Oppenheimer, Denise Levertov, Jonathan Williams and Robert Creeley. Creeley worked as a teacher and editor of the Black Mountain Review for two years, moving to San Francisco in 1957. There, he acted as a link between the Black Mountain poets and the Beats, many of whom he had published in the review. Also, the appearance in 1960 of Donald Allen's anthology The New American Poetry 1945-1960 (which divides the poets included in its pages into various schools) was crucial: it established a legacy and promoted the influence of the Black Mountain poets worldwide.
Apart from their strong interconnections with the Beats, the Black Mountain poets influenced the course of later American poetry via their importance for the poets later identified with the Language School. They were also important for the development of innovative British poetry since the 1960s, as evidenced by such poets as Tom Raworth and J. H. Prynne. Modern projectivist poets include Charles Potts. The recent pamphlets and collections of Mario Petrucci (a rare example of a British poet extending Projectivist and Objectivist factors convincingly into his work) demonstrate a significant and distinctive way forward for English language poetry in this vein.