(In the process of seeking permissions for development of this project)


We    reaving

A theatrical COMPOSITION BY FIELD of the co-respondence 


denise levertov          +           robert duncan




Performed by Monika Gross + David Novak

Directed by Monika Gross

Adapted from the letters & poems of Denise Levertov + Robert Duncan





This project is a staged version of “Composition by Field,” the aesthetic form that Denise Levertov and Robert Duncan embraced. It follows the rise and fall of the three dramatic arcs of their deeply felt friendship: the poetic, the personal and the political, as the landscape of post World War II American culture became deeply fractured by the powerful forces of the Vietnam War, the Women’s Rights movement and the Civil Rights movement.


Although Robert Duncan was only briefly associated with the Black Mountain College faculty and Denise Levertov never even visited the campus, they became identified as Black Mountain College Poets because of their appearance in print, along with the poets Charles Olson, Robert Creeley and others, in The Black Mountain Review. Furthermore, they formed a collective identity around an aesthetic stance first defined in Charles Olson’s 1950 essay “Projective Verse” that was summed up as “COMPOSITION BY FIELD” where “FORM IS NEVER MORE THAN AN EXTENSION OF CONTENT.” In this creative process, the blank page is like a field where the poet organizes his poem and this field of paper is itself in a dynamic relationship to the larger field of the poet’s entire life experience. The poem was shaped not be meter or stanzas but by spatial arrangements of language, a kind of “scoring” of the articulation of consciousness, a form inspired in particular by the works of William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound.


The scholar Albert Gelpi writes in his introduction to these collected letters: “By almost any measure, the correspondence between Robert Duncan and Denise Levertov constitutes the most important exchange between two American poets in the second half of the twentieth century….  In the descent from Black Mountain, the account of the long, close, almost symbiotic association between Duncan and Levertov and its sudden rupture tells a particularly dramatic and revealing story.”






A presentation at The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center 2014 Conference:

ReVIEWING 6: The Writers of Black Mountain College




Monika Gross reading a Denise Levertov poem at Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center Poetry Night for {Re}VIEWING 6: Black Mountain College Writers 2014. Photos by Ken Fitch  Paintings by Dan Rice.