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Paul Metcalf Archive

The Paul Metcalf Archive was created and shaped primarily by poet, experimental prose writer and dramatist Paul Metcalf. It contains material that documents his life and work, and is especially illuminating of Metcalf's creative process through its published and unpublished manuscripts and associated material.

Whenever possible the files remain exactly as Metcalf left them—that which he chose to keep in the order he kept it. The Archive is a carefully composed record of important correspondence, notes, research materials and manuscripts, which lay bare this master collagist's methods of fieldwork, investigation and composition. His work resulted in the publication of more than twenty highly acclaimed books and the creation of a new genre of writing. As such, The Paul Metcalf Archive may be his most important work. In any case it will be of great interest to scholars and writers; several future creative projects dwell among the files.

Paul Metcalf

Photograph of Paul by Nicholas Dean, probably mid-60s near the Metcalf's home in Becket, Massachusetts, 8 x 10 inches.   Snapshot of young Paul on Springside Road in Skyland, North Carolina,
September 1955, 3-1/2 x 5 inches.


Like a medieval chronicler with the eye of a poet and the heart of a taleteller, he fits together radiant fragments into a wholly new kind of construct.

— Guy Davenport

[Genoa: A Telling of Wonders] invites us to pass our minds down a new but ancient track, to become, ourselves, both fact and fiction, and to discover something true about the geography of time."

— William H. Gass

My excitement and pleasure is such that I would like to emphasize here my very great respect for Paul Metcalf’s writing and the unique significance of its publication....Much like his great-grandfather, Herman Melville, Paul Metcalf brings an extraordinary diversity of materials into the complex patterns of analogy and metaphor, to affect a common term altogether brilliant in its imagination.”

— Robert Creeley


Brief Biography of Paul Metcalf

Paul Metcalf (1917–1999) was a poet, experimental prose writer and dramatist published by many small presses. He has been described by some as a "cult figure" and was followed and praised by writers and critics that included Robert Creeley, William Gass, Wendell Berry, and Guy Davenport.

Metcalf was born in East Milton, Massachusetts, attended private progressive schools, and eventually graduated from a formal Connecticut prep school. His mother, Eleanor Thomas Metcalf, was the oldest granddaughter of Herman Melville and was his literary executor. His father, Henry (Harry) Knight Metcalf, was a direct descendant of Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island.

Paul first met Charles Olson when he 14 (Olson was 20) when he stopped by their home to talk with Paul's mother about Melville. Paul would later say "more than any of the other Melvillians who flocked to our house, Charles treated me as a human being." The two had a casual friendship until they met again later at Black Mountain College.

Around 1940, he spent an influential summer while living, "studying and drinking" with Conrad Aiken. Nancy and Paul Metcalf moved to New York, but he developed tuberculosis in 1945 and moved back to Cambridge and then to Georgia to convalesce. After recovering, they moved to western North Carolina. The couple would live the next twenty years primarily in the South.

On one of Paul's many visits to Black Mountain College, he renewed his friendship with Olson. It was Olson who introduced him to Jonathan Williams. The two became lifelong friends and Williams' Jargon Society published his first book Will West in 1956, and five subsequent works later.

In 1963, the Metcalfs moved to the Berkshires in Massachusetts, where they would spend the rest of their lives. The Metcalf home became a locus for artists and writers in the area.

Paul Metcalf published over 20 books during his life. Coffee House Press published his Collected Works in three volumes in 1996–97 about which Publishers Weekly wrote: "Like Nathanial Hawthorne or William Carlos Williams, Black Mountain poet Paul Metcalf accrues literary authority out of an acute sense of American history, as if that history were itself the fabled last frontier, a wilderness of wealth, massacre and movement to be traced, ultimately, in a verse as direct as the names on a map...those who know his work already will be excited to have these pieces all in one place."


Selected Highlights from the Archive

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Summary of the Paul Metcalf Archive


Significant correspondence from Paul Metcalf's colleagues is present from wide range of poets, writers, scholars and others, including Russell Banks, Wendell Berry, Guy Davenport, Vincent Ferrini, Allen Ginsberg, Andrew Hoyem, Ralph Maud, Clare Spark, John Taggart, and Jonathan Williams. Yet what may be most interesting about this series is the inclusion of original letters that Paul Metcalf wrote to several colleagues. After his death, his daughter contacted many of Metcalf's correspondents asking them to donate his letters to the archive. Several agreed and supplied original letters (or photocopies); consequently the Archive includes several hundred letters written by Paul Metcalf to some of his closest correspondents over several decades, providing a rich resource for investigation into his practice.


Manuscripts in various states with much associated material, including: Enter Isabel, Genoa, Patagoni, I-57, Will West and the unpublished early novel The Statue [a.k.a. Household Gods], and Willie's Throw. Approx. 9 linear feet.

Published material

Included are approx. 37 books by Paul Metcalf (several with substantial annotations in Metcalf's hand); approx. 17 broadsides and posters; approx. 54 magazines, anthologies, and other books with contributions by Paul Metcalf; approx. 26 books by others (many inscribed and with notes or letters); and P.M. 60, a unique festschrift for Paul Metcalf organized by Jonathan Williams for Paul's birthday in 1977.

Audio / Visual

There are approx. 9 assorted VHS tapes; approx. 350 photographs of friends, family, and Paul Metcalf; approx. 30 photographs of and by Jonathan Williams, including two portraits by Graham Keen; approx. 20 color slides; and Nicholas Dean and Gerard Malanga portraits of Paul Metcalf.


Among other items included are genealogic material, memorabilia, and some personal effects.


Included are items related to Henry Metcalf, Paul's father (including items related to the Herman Melville estate); assorted articles about Melville; documentation about the Metcalf donation of Melville family documents and artifacts to the Berkshire Athenaeum; and other such items.


Many other assorted items, including publicity, reviews, and resumes.


The archive comprises approximately 19 linear feet (14 boxes, plus oversize) and is housed at Granary Books. Please contact at Granary Books more information including a detailed inventory.