Blakespotting: News about William Blake, September and October 2018

The big event in August was the unveiling of a new grave stone to mark the actual resting place of William Blake in the cemetery at Bunhill Fields, and which was covered on Zoamorphosis at the time. While most news stories about the new stone appeared by the end of August, in the Church Times, Lucy Winkett, the Rector of Blake’s parish church, St James’s, Piccadilly and who spoke at the ceremony, offered a reflective essay on what William Blake would have to say to us today as a prophet for both his times and ours.

Mid September saw a return of the three-day celebration of Blakean inspiration, Blakefest, which took place on 14th-16th in Bognor Regis, the town next to Felpham where Blake lived from 1800 to 1803 and where he wrote his famous poem, “And did those feet…” Blakefest has become a regular cultural and artistic festival, with Lene Lovich and a tribute to George Harrison headlining at this year’s event. Organiser, Olivia Stevens, told the Chichester Observer that Blake “was the inspiration for so much that has happened since” and that the festival would bring “a lot of great art and music and culture to Bognor”.

One extremely significant release in October was a translation of Olga Tokarczuk’s Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead. Taking its title from one of Blake’s proverbs of hell, the novel was originally written in 2009 and is now available in English, following the success of her 2007 novel, Flights, which was translated last year and won the Mann Booker prize for best translation. The novel, described by Sarah Perry at The Guardian as “an extraordinary display of the qualities that have made Tokarczuk so notable a presence in contemporary literature”, is quite simply one of the most Blakean novels ever to have been written. An offbeat whodunnit centred on Janina Duszejko, it is extremely funny, suffused with references to Blake’s works, and we’ll be carrying a review of it here soon.

Art shows during September and October included an exhibition at the Levy Gorky gallery in New York, featuring a selection of works by Robert Ryman, Cy Twombly, Lee Bontecu and Jaspar Johns. Entitled “Intimate Infinite: Imagine a Journey”, the full show included work by 27 artists and unfolds over three floors in a pattern that was inspired by Blake’s Auguries of Innocence. As Gorvy told Robb Report, the aim of the exhibition which ran from September 14 to October 24, was “to look intensely at each grain of sand and find within it a whole universe”. The end of October also saw the publication of forty-three pencil sketches by Blake on the Blake Archive, showing his “early debt to academic standards of precise copying and to the neoclassical emphasis on outline” according to the blog of the Archive.

Elsewhere, Blake made a brief appearance via his poem “The Tyger” in Joe Martin’s Us and Them, although that film will probably disappear without trace. There were also some musical interludes: “Jerusalem” was, as ever, a staple of Last Night of the Proms in September and U2’s tour of eXPERIENCE + iNNOCENCE tour wound to a close at the O2 stadium in London. More significantly, during October, the passing of Winston McGarland Bailey, better known via his stage-name, Shadow, saw a celebration of his life during which he was called “the William Blake of Calypso“. Bailey was a musician and songwriter who was born in Tobago and won numerous awards for his music, and was awarded a doctorate by the University of the West Indies for his music. Harriet Stubbs released a new album, Heaven and Hell: The Doors of Perception, which we’ll be reviewing soon,  and there was a great profile of Martha Redbone, who set many of Blake’s poems to music on The Garden of Love, in LexGo magazine.

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