Black Mountain’s experiments with breath intrigue me. What substances, events, beliefs, or conditions placed breath into the poetry and pottery of persons like M.C. Richards and Charles Olson? Is breath the doorway to inwardness and inner reality? It can certainly space us out, take us out of the ordinary, cheer us, focus us, enliven us, disperse us. It empowers us to “quest on, quest on,” as Richards implores. But what exactly are we struggling toward? Richards teaches that “perception itself yields moral insight. And centered consciousness yields initiative of will. And thus the ancient Trinity of Truth, Beauty, and Goodness lives in the modern ideal of Surreality, Nakedness, and Freedom. Or Revelation, Redemption, and Compassion” (Centering, p. 130). She believes that “Substance itself bears traces of the whole” and that “These traces, as we perceive them (and provided we heed them!), carry us toward the center; they are paths and structures of interrelatedness, they are the seeds of our free residence, they may speak to us as Conscience” (131). By these instructions, we evolve into inner rule of ourselves. Acts of reading and writing come to feel like imaginative explorations of mythopoetic worlds. Somewhere along our journey, however, we arrive at the edges of these constructs and we recognize in the landscape the contours of our heads — evidence, in other words, that the world around us is not the world around us so much as a memory palace or cognitive map.
The worker must have her bread — but she also must have her roses. Hand over, motherfuckers, or we’ll storm your gates and tax your estates. We’ve had enough of these open-air debtor prisons. We will remain silent no longer. From out of the monoculture into Out There step bands like Tower Recordings and Wet Tuna. By exercising consciousness, I can release from my usual mask of pain into an embodiment in breath and posture of loving kindness. “Focus on one’s breath”: this is what Charles Olson proposes in his essay, “Projective Verse.” The brain is there in the breath, the line, and the syllable. Regulate breathing, and awareness intensifies. We see and hear more of the grand dynamic. The creak of the kitchen table from the push of our hands as we write. Objects arranged on the table’s surface. Olson intervenes at just this moment to remind us to concentrate on breath and beware the ease of the descriptive. Within the energy field that will become the poem, he says, one must manage syllables and lines in their relations to each other. Such was the way Olson taught his students to write, both at Black Mountain College and elsewhere. Linguistic objects — words, sounds, sequences of syllables: for these, the poet finds a use.