The monthly roundup of Blake sightings in the media.
June began as such an innocent month for Blake spotters. The Guardian reminded us that Blake, along with Yeats, Joyce and Eliot, was a primary inspiration for the brilliant Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison, paying homage to the Romantic artist and poet in “Summertime in England”, while Vice magazine included an interview with King’s Cross poet Aidan Dun, an often neglected writer who I first encountered in the mid-nineties following Iain Sinclair’s comparison of Dun’s Vale Royal with the works of Blake.
The anniversary of Allen Ginsberg’s birth on June 3 saw a number of paeans to the celebrated Beat poet, many of which noted Blake as one of his most important sources of inspiration, such as the post on Rubber Tramp Artist and Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. A few days later, the Blake Society invited anyone in Felpham to join them at the cottage where William and Catherine had once lived for tea and conversation, celebrating the fact that their home had been purchased by a charitable trust at the end of 2015, saving the place where Blake wrote the words to the hymn ‘Jerusalem’ for the nation.
One of the most delightful Blake sightings for me was the trailer for a new game on the PlayStation, Death Stranding, by Hideo Kojima, one of the greatest game designers of all time. Opening with lines from Blake’s Auguries of Innocence, “To see a world in a grain of sand/And a heaven in a wild flower,/Hold infinity in the palm of your hand/And eternity in an hour”, the three-minute clip invited a series of obsessive close-readings worthy of the finest biblical scholars as publications such as PC Gamer, Ars Technica and PSLS tried to work out what the hell it all meant – introducing a new audience to the words of Blake in the process.
On June 16, Jennifer Davis Michael published a very neat piece of journalistic work puncturing a myth which has long been a favourite of mine: that Donald Trump has copies of the Proverbs of Hell on the wall of his library in Trump Tower. I first encountered this urban legend in Mike Goode’s article on “Blakespotting” (a title I have shamelessly exploited since I read it in 2006), and Michael shows how the original piece in the New Yorker could not have referred to Trump Tower. I shall – shamefacedly this time – add my own small correction to Michael’s excellent piece. She observes that Roger Whitson used the Trump anecdote in a blog post he published for an MLA panel – Roger actually got the story from me which I included in a book we wrote together in 2013.
Blake was the subject of a typically superb episode of Radio 4’s In Our Time, presented by Melvyn Bragg with guests Jon Mee, Sarah Haggarty and Jonathan Bate, which I heartily recommend any Blake fans listen to. If your curiosity is piqued still further, you can also take the quiz to see which pop groups Blake has inspired.
Some other beautiful, Blakean bits and pieces included a limited edition of plates from Songs of Innocence and of Experience printed by Michael Phillips, a trance version of “The Tyger” by Tiger Tooth, a new album by singer-songwriter John Paul White entitled Beulah, two fascinating articles on Blake as biological visionary and his influence on the great collector Paul Mellon,and a review of Bob Rodgers’ new book, The Devil’s Party: Who Killed The Sixties?, which takes as its subject the two celebrated University of Toronto professors, Northrop Frye and Marshall McLuhan.
If June began as a song of innocence, however, it ended as one of experience. The UK referendum on whether to leave the European Union revealed a nation deeply divided, and – inevitably perhaps – the Blake/Parry hymn ‘Jerusalem’ was often invoked, usually on the side of those who believed that it was right to vote leave and take back control of Britain’s borders. The blog On an overgrown path, republished a post from the 2012 London Olympics as to why the hymn’s origins in 1916 were not necessarily as Blake would have wished them, while Fintan O’Toole argued in The Irish Times that many who invoked both ‘Jerusalem’ and Shakespeare’s famous speech on ‘This scepter’d isle’ frequently misunderstand the meanings of both texts. The culture wars for ‘Jerusalem’ and what it means are likely to continue for a very long time.