Apocalypse: The unveiling of William Blake’s new gravestone

191 years after his death, a new gravestone was unveiled on the spot where William Blake was buried in Bunhill Fields. At an event promoted by the Blake Society as an apocalypse (or revelation of Blake’s final resting place), crowds far larger than those expected by the organisers gathered to hear Blake enthusiasts offer a celebration of his life and work and to pay their respects to the memory of one of London’s most famous sons.

Blake had been buried at Bunhill Fields after his death on 12 August, 1827 in an unmarked grave, one of eight bodies to occupy the plot, with three corpses below him and another four above him. A gravestone was placed 20 metres away marking that the remains of William and Catherine lay “nearby”. It was Carol and Luis Garrido who discovered the precise location of Blake’s grave in 2006, using records of co-ordinates to find the spot and leading the Blake Society to begin an appeal to gather the funds for another, more accurate marker. The gravestone, carved by Lida Cardozo, was then unveiled on the anniversary of Blake’s death.

The ceremony itself began at 3.00 pm, with a crowd that reports were estimating at between 400 and 800 people and certainly a much larger number than the Blake Society had estimated. Blake Society trustee, Gareth Sturdy, told the BBC that “more and more people are beginning to realise how central Blake is to the national culture”, and certainly the celebrations on Sunday demonstrated the great affection in which Blake is held.

Among those who spoke at the event were the poet, singer-songwriter, priest, and academic Malcolm Guite, who argued forcefully for the church to recognise Blake as a prophet who spoke to the nation’s deepest spiritual concerns, the poet and convener of the William Blake Congregation (and former contributor to Sniffin’ Glue) Stephen Micalef, Lucy Winkett, the rector of St James in Piccadilly, the church where Blake was baptised, and comedian Will Franken, who gave a rousing speech intended to shake the attentive crowd from their slumbers in true Blakean style. The star turn, however, was provided by Bruce Dickinson, who demonstrated that his love of Blake ran much deeper than his 1998 album The Chemical Wedding, offering a vision of how the spirit of the Romantic had touched and transformed his own music. Like most speakers there, when standing before the mortal (or, as Blake would have it, vegetable) remains of the artist, Dickinson refused to accept that he was anything other than very much alive, declaring him “one of the greatest living English poets”. For anyone else, this would have been a mistake, but not for the man who once wrote of himself: “William Blake, one who is very much delighted with being in good Company. Born 28 Nov’ 1757 in London and has died several times since.” Philip Pullman, who had also intended to speak to the assembly, had unfortunately been taken ill the previous night in Edinburgh.

Musical accompaniment was provided by the band Blake, who sang their namesake’s most famous hymn, “Jerusalem”, while a new composition came from Chris Williams: drawing its inspiration from the lines carved on the gravestone – “I give you the end of a golden string; Only wind it into a ball, It will lead you in at Heaven’s gate, Built in Jerusalem’s wall” – the very beautiful piece of music was sung by Sansara, although Williams himself was not able to be there due to visa difficulties.

The end of the ceremony included people laying flowers beside the new stone, along with a further opportunity to pay respects through the placing of 191 candles to represent one of each of the years since Blake’s death. While other inhabitants such as Daniel Defoe and John Bunyan have been commemorated much more visibly at Bunhill than Blake, it is more than fitting that, as Gareth Sturdy has also remarked, his final resting place is now marked in a spot of green grass where children will be able to play in the summer.

 

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, July 2018

July was a fairly quiet month for Blake news, although towards the end a few pieces began to appear about an event that will be covered here soon: the plans to unveil a new gravestone marking the final resting place of William Blake. As Florence Snead reported for iNews, members of the Blake Society discovered the location in 2006 and the new stone will be unveiled in a ceremony on the anniversary of his death on August 12. The Telegraph sought to inject a little drama into the event by suggesting conflict over the choice of quotation to be included, but in truth the new gravestone seems to be one that will bring Blake aficionados together.

One of the most fascinating events for July was the announcement of a new piece of choreography and music inspired by Blake at the Art Centro de Arte UNLP in Buenos Aires. Entitled Apolión and directed by Jerónimo Búffalo, with additional performances by Santiago Culacciati and Esteban Trindade, the piece includes the music of Julia Gala and José Gómez Vega. In an interview with El Dia, Búffalo explained that the link to Blake came from the poet’s depiction of Apollyon, the Fiend, for his illustrations to Bunyan, that showed a world being torn apart by gods who do not give answers to our questions.

The South African carried a review of Wirework, the play by Daleen Kruger that explores the Owl House, Helen Martin’s collection of outsider art in Eastern Cape that includes pieces inspired by Blake, and currently being performed at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London. Michael Popham argued it was well worth seeing despite the good weather and attractions of Wimbledon, although perhaps he was writing from memories of having seen the Afrikaans original. As mentioned last month, performances of William Blake in Hollywood also continued through the month in Utah.

One of the best visual arts pieces for the month was a profile of the internationally acclaimed artist Jaume Plensa in BlouinArtInfo, who has returned to Blake many times. Although not directly addressing pieces such as “One Thought Fills Immensity” or his Blake in Gateshead light installation, he offers the following Proverb of Hell as the ideal model for his own sculptural practice: “in springtime learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” Elsewhere in Vancouver, the Burnaby Art Gallery had a series of illustrations by Jeff Ladouceur, an artist whose sources include Blake and Mad magazine. According to a review in Straight magazine, Ladouceur who was born in New York gives an insight through his show into “the slow path through life”. Similarly, an exhibition in Gratz, Philadelphia, reviewed by the Jewish Exponent, explored the meaning of Job through the ages, including Blake’s famous illustrations.

Something spotted online for July should really have been included much earlier in the year: Isao Yukisada’s River’s Edge was released in February, but I only knew of its existence because of a review in The Real Bits that was published in July. The story details the relations between Haruna and her homosexual friend, Ichiro, who is often beaten and alienated: when they discover a corpse by the river’s edge (hence the title) so things become even darker, but the reason for the Blake connection is that apparently Ichiro demonstrates his life experiences to Haruna by reading her the poetry of William Blake. One that I shall follow up in future.

Finally, there were a number of references to the Romantic poet in relation to the anniversary of the death of Jim Morrison on July 3, such as this one at EuropaFM and this at Il Malilio, most of them noting Blake as the source of The Doors’ name. One of the more interesting to read (though not necessarily with much to say about Blake) is this personal reflection by Sanjin Dumišic.

 

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, June 2018

The big news during June was Tate Britain’s announcement that it will recreate William Blake’s failed 1809 exhibition in 2019. Speaking to Robert Dex at the London Evening Standard, Alex Farquharson said that the main purpose of the exhibition is to shift the perception of Blake as primarily a poet to a visual artist. The show will open next September and will be one of the biggest displays of Blake’s work since the 2000 exhibition that also took place there.

Although it was actually released at the end of May, Patti Smith’s The New Jerusalem, a prose poem written in response to the Trump Administration’s decision to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, became available in the UK in early June. As well as her gnomic, Blake-inspired text, it includes a series of images produced by Smith in recent years. Smith gave a talk at the Festival of Voice in Cardiff and we’ll be carrying a review of the book soon. Other publications in June included Julia Fine’s debut novel, What Should be Wild, with nods to Blake in the form of the characters the Blakeleys and a setting of Urizon, while Hiroshi Unno’s The Art of Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Steampunk demonstrates the influence of Blake among other artists on modern fantasy artworks.

A truly wonderful piece of Blake-inspired art came via the Edinburgh College of Art’s end of year degree show. Jack Handscombe, a student at the ECA, produced an installation of a figure dressed in racing leathers, crouched above a keyboard as a palm tree sprouts from its back. Entitled “After Blake’s Newton (After Paolozzi)”, as Duncan Macmillan, reviewing the show for The Scotsman, observed, the piece is a witty parody of the Paolozzi statue that stands in front of the British Library, suggesting that “digital is all very well, but nature will break out”.

Neko Case released a new album, Hell-On, was released on June 1. At least one reviewer (Ludovic Hunter-Tilney at the Financial Times) noted the Blakean connection to the track “Last Lion of Albion”, as in the chorus:

Last lion of Albion
They’ll use you for centuries to come
Your wound’s the main road into London
You’ll feel extinction
When you see your face on their money

Another musical performance announced during June is Eve Beglarian’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell at, which will be performed at the New York Bang on a Can summer music festival.

Also in the arts, a new show in London was announced, Wirework. Written by Daleen Kruger, the play itself was actually written in Afrikaans in 2009 but has recently been translated, telling the story of The Owl House, a remarkable piece of outsider art by Helen Martins and Koos Malgas. The pair created an extraordinary environment in the middle of the Karoo in the Easter Cape, taking their inspiration from Omar Khayyam, the Bible and William Blake to fill the museum with wonderful statues. The play will perform at the Tristan Bates Theatre in London from July 3-7. Another performance that carried the spirit of William Blake came from Keith Hennessy’s Sink at The Lab in San Francisco. According to the Bay Area Reporter, Hennessy’s dance and chant invokes both Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Blake’s Songs of Innocence. Also in theatre, Lynne Kaufman’s one act play, William Blake in Hollywood, will show in Cedar City in Utah. Exhibitions during June included William Blake in Colour at the William Blake Gallery, and the owner of the gallery, John Windle, gave a talk on the artist and poet during Melbourne Rare Books Week.

Finally, during June we were also reminded of the Blakean references in Westworld (“Auguries of Innocence”), as a signifier of English identity according to the BBC’s poll (“Jerusalem”), that the Libertines nearly took a more Blakean name, the Albions, and you could have heard a group of Blake scholars – Michael Phillips, Linda Freedman, Susan Matthews and me – discuss the Life and Works of William Blake on the BBC World Service’s programme The Forum.

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, May 2018

At the start of May, U2 began their Innocence + Experience 2018 tour through North America, crossing the continent with the aim of providing a series of performances in New York before heading on to the European leg. Aside from the date, this is the same title as the tour they undertook three years ago (after the release of Songs of Innocence) and offered a very different experience to the “greatest hits” fest that was last year’s Joshua Tree Tour. Reviews of the events were generally positive, with Rolling Stone magazine calling the band’s opening night performance in Tulsa “more interesting and less predictable” than other recent events, while Barry Egan of the Independent.ie called it “one of the bravest, most powerful and even angriest performances U2 have ever done”.

Among other musical events in May, Pitchfork magazine carried a profile of Max Clarke, whose debut album Hollow Ground is released as the work of Cut Worms – a reference to Blake’s proverb of hell, “The cut worm forgives the plough”. While the songs themselves may resemble early 60s Beatles as much as Blake, Clarke’s other career as an illustrator also seems to fuel his empathies with Blake. In Iowa, the Chamber Singers presented “Watching and Waiting” at the First Presbyterian Church, which included “Tryptych” by Kevin Dibble, a cantata for strings and chorus written in 2004 that draws on the words of William Blake, as well as Milton, the Bible, and Indian and Islamic texts.

For the visual arts, Peter Parks’s exhibition at the Magpie Gallery in Taos, New Mexico, included a series of watercolours that reference Blake as well as John Singer Sargent, American abstract expressionism and aboriginal art, while “A Guided Tour of Hell” at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco includes work by Pema Namdol Thaye, whose hypnotic paintings invoke Dante, Turner and Blake as much as Buddhist art. Hell returned as a theme with the release of the second issue of Her Infernal Descent, in which Blake continues to serve the role of Virgil to Dante as he leads the protagonist, Lynn, deeper into the circle of gluttony. Hell, or rather The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, provided the title for Flights (as in “No bird soars too high if he soars with his own wings”) by Olga Tokarczuk, whose nomination for the Man Booker prize was announced in May. As much a lament for “the decimation of her country’s very own ‘green and pleasant land'” according to The Guardian, her work is increasingly being viewed as a challenge to the Law and Justice party in Poland.

The motif of flights made a strange return in May with a recreation of the famous Nike/Michael Jordan poster from the 1990s.  The Minnesota Lynx star, Maya Moore, was photographed in exactly the same pose as Jordan two decades previously, catching a great deal of attention in downtown Minneapolis and reminding viewers just how iconic the original was.

Last but by no means least, May ended with the author and president of the Blake Society, Philip Pullman, giving a talk entitled “Daemon Voices”, the Society’s annual lecture. Talking about the importance of stories and the craft of storytelling, and drawing on his recent book Daemon Voices, Pullman gave examples from his latest novel, La Belle Sauvage, interspersed with readings by the actor Olivia Vinall, who appeared in The Woman in White on the BBC as well as Young Chekhov at the National Theatre.

 

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, April 2018

Among new releases in April, the first part of the graphic novel series, Her Infernal Descent, appeared. Written by Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, with art by Kyle Charles, it offers an update on Dante’s journey through the underworld as a woman is taken in search of her family with William Blake as her guide. I reviewed the first issue and the next installment is due in May. Another major event was the premiere of Daniel Kidane’s Songs of Illumination at the Leeds Lieder festival on April 22, and again you can read the review of that performance on Zoamorphosis.com.

The end of the month saw the publication of Blake’s A Descriptive Catalogue on the Blake Archive. Printed in a small run, the Catalogue was written to accompany his one-man show of 1809-10 and the one review, by Robert Hunt, branded the exhibition the work of a lunatic. You can read about the history of the Catalogue on the Blake Archive blog and view the work itself under Manuscripts and Typographic Works on the Archive.

Sadder news was the death of Alice Provensen, at the age of 99, on 23 April. For some forty years she had worked with her husband, Martin, on illustrations until his death in 1987, before continuing a solo career into her nineties. During the period that she worked with Martin they produced illustrations for a number of children’s books, including the wonderful A Visit to William Blake’s Inn by Nancy Willard. She is survived by her daughter, Karen, and you can read her obituary at The New York Times.

In other news, the Glasgow International this year included Mark Leckey’s Nobodaddy, described by The Guardian correctly, I think, as a “deeply troubled figure” and obviously based on Blake’s character of the same name. Meanwhile, a show by Alec Lewis at Tenby Art Gallery, West Wales, called The Painted Word demonstrates the influence of William Blake’s art and poetry – as well as that of Dylan Thomas and Leonard Cohen – and runs until June 10. At Union College in Schenectady, NY State, the exhibition “Blake@Union: From Print to Digital” is on display in the Lally Reading Room. Curated by Caitlin Williams, it shows the College’s collection of Blake works and will run throughout the summer.

A number of reviews of Jim Jarmusch’s 1995 film, Dead Man, started popping up – such as this one at Slant Magazine, due to the release of the film on Blu Ray. If you haven’t had chance to catch up with this classic, which is a great surreal western as well as an homage to William Blake, then now is your chance. There was also some musical news with a new album, Hollow Ground, by the group Cut Worm (named after Blake’s proverb, “The cut worm forgives the plough”), although the other event was another death, this time of Bob Dorough, who wrote “Conjunction Junction” and worked with Allen Ginsberg on that poet’s album of Blake songs set to music.

And finally, Blake provided another pop culture reference in the form of HBO’s new season for Westworld, its dystopian vision of a future world of slavery and violence. In a reddit Ask Me Anything, director Jonathan Nolan cited a line from Auguries of Innocence, “A Robin Red breast in a Cage Puts all Heaven in a Rage”. As Cindy Davis remarked in a review of the new season, “if that doesn’t say it all, I don’t know what would.”

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, March 2018

March ended with something of a bang in terms of Blakespotting, with the public unveiling of the new arrangement of Team England’s theme for the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games. Recorded by Tokio Myers, the current champion of Britain’s Got Talent, and The Voice star and Commonwealth silver medallist, Jazmin Sawyers, their new version of Parry’s “Jerusalem” attracted a huge amount of attention during the month. As well as having a remarkable voice, Sawyers (who won silver in the Glasgow 2014 games) also attended the 2018 events to participate in the long jump. Team England announced the version mid March, and the British newspapers carried a fairly typical series of stories, with plenty of explanations as to why the song is performed instead of “God Save the Queen” and, my personal favourite, The Sun explaining why “This is… the right anthem for England“. If you haven’t heard it already, the link to the new version appears below.

The exhibition at Petworth House, William Blake in Sussex, continued to attract attention in March. There is a straightforward notice in The Argus and I shall note my own review of the exhibition and catalogue. The highest recommendation, however, is for an extremely thoughtful review by Esther Chadwick is available at Apollo Magazine, in which Chadwick also notes how Blake “was drawn to the patron of [his] strange work”, A Vision of the Last Judgement. Certainly the National Trust attracted a great deal of attention for the event, with it being sold out on the day that we attended and showing off Blake to his best effects.

In other news, Eric G. Wilson, a professor at Wake Forest University, published a collection of stories, Polaris Ghost, which offers the intriguing claim to connect “the dots between William Blake and David Lynch”. It’s available on sale now and in the near(ish) there will be a review on Zoamorphosis, along with another book published in January but only recently available in the UK, Jeremy Limn’s The Auguries of Lost Lilacs. The Scoundrel & Scamp stage in Tucson, Arizona, also saw a performance of Mickle Maher’s 2011 comedy, There is a Happiness that Morning Is, in which two lovers and academics give their views of life as based on the work of William Blake. Kathleen Allen of the Arizona Daily Star called it a “stellar production.”

In music, Englabörn & Variations by the Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson, was released on 23 March and includes a version of the poem “Holy Thursday” on its second disc. Jóhannsson was famous for his film work, having composed the score for The Theory of Everything as well as a number of movies by Denis Villeneuve and had tragically died, aged 48, in February. Englabörn had originally been recorded in 2002 as his first solo album, and so the re-release with additional material (including the Blake track) was the first record to be issued after his death. “Holy Thursday” is particularly beautiful and makes his sudden death even more poignant. You can listen to it at Spotify.

The end of the month also saw the announcement of a new exhibition to open in April at the Hyde Collection in Glen Falls, New York State, featuring a local artist, Rockwell Kent. Kent is not an artist I have been familiar with, but apparently studied Blake alongside Nietzsche and his politics and private mores “scandalized family, friends and adversaries” according to a preview in The Post Star. While his work has passed me by so far, one image that has been used to publicise the exhibition – Flame – is so clearly Blakean in its inspiration that my own curiosity has been stimulated to explore his works more fully. The show, the first comprehensive one since 1974 after his death in 1971, opens on Sunday 8 April and runs until July 22.

 

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, February 2018

Eurynome by Faith Wilding, 1978-9.

Although a relatively quiet month on the Blake front, the arts saw a number of events and exhibitions that were inspired by William Blake in one form of another.

Faith Wilding: Fearful Symmetries is an exhibition of the artist’s work at Carnegie Mellon University, where Wilding formerly taught, as well as working with the cyberfeminist art collective subRosa. Quotes accompanying her impressive pieces draw upon a range of writers and artists, including Emma Goldman, Virginia Woolf and, unsurprisingly considering the exhibition’s title, William Blake. Her work, as Bill O’Driscoll points out, is frequently overtly political, and anyone in Pittsburgh will have a chance to see it throughout March before it continues on a national tour.

The artist Siggi Ámundason, whose large-scale pen drawings reference William Blake as well as eighties anime, Goya and Francis Bacon, displayed some of his work at the Kjarvalsstaðir Museum in Iceland: his work, part of a larger exhibition entitled “Tales of the Unseen”, will remain on display until April 22.

An exhibition on works inspired by T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land also takes in William Blake as well as Paul Nash and Henry Moore as part of the eclectic mix of Eliot’s themes and inspirations, according to Hannah Luxton. “Journey’s with the Waste Land” is on display at the Turner Contemporary gallery in Margate until 7 May.

Film, stage and TV also had offered some intriguing snippets during February. While not directly inspired by Blake, the latest drama by Clio Barnard, Dark River, is a reminder that one of her previous short films, Lambeth MarshJoseph Walsh at the Financial Times, was so inspired. Dark River began an adaptation of Rose Tremain’s novel Trespass before evolving into a story of the aftermath of abuse in the English countryside, and indeed according to Blake’s poetry remains a source for the latest film.

Elsewhere on screen, Blake had a cameo from his death bed in the new TV series, The Frankenstein Chronicles: while, as Meghan O’Keefe observes, it is something of a stretch to say that Blake and Mary Wollstonecraft were firm friends, nonetheless his small part is a significant link in this entertaining show set in 1827 London.

A performance of Jez Butterworth’s play Jerusalem at the Crow’s Theatre in Toronto drew enthusiastic reviews, as per this from Kelly Nestruck who declared it “pure theatre of the kind we rarely see”. Kim Coates, the Saskatoon-born actor best known for his work on Sons of Anarchy, plays the role of Rooster Byron and the play continues at the Crow’s Theatre until March 10.

February saw the 40th anniversary of Derek Jarman’s punk tribute, Jubilee: a long-time fan of Blake’s work (he dedicated the film to Blake along with many others of his heroes), Jarman’s nod to the Romantic poet in the movie includes a brilliant version of ‘Jerusalem’ by Amyl Nitrate which, while not as visually compelling as her version of Rule, Britannia, is still striking. As Adam Scovell noted in The Quietus, the film is “a time capsule” of the time when subcultures could afford to grow in England’s capital.

Musically, February saw the release of Shawn Colvin’s The Starlighter, which includes a version of Blake’s “Cradle Song”. Colvin, an American singer-songwriter best known for her 1997 Grammy-winning song, “Sunny Come Home”, discussed her music as part of the #MeToo movement with Michael Raver at The Huffington Post. We’ll be carrying a review of Starlighter at some not too distant point in the future.

Finally, the bizarrest Blake reference in February came from Ben Shapiro, who made the following, oddly compelling remark about Donald Trump:

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, January 2018

 

The Blakean new year began with a bang as an important exhibition opened at Petworth House in Sussex. Entitled William Blake in Sussex: Visions of Albion and organised by the National Trust, the owners of Petworth, this offers a rare opportunity to view some of the works created by Blake during his sojourn at Felpham in 1800-1803 and collected here together for the first time. Petworth itself, home of the 3rd Earl of Egremont when the Blakes were living nearby, has long housed the artist’s remarkable The Last Judgement which was commissioned by the Earl. Having opened on January 13, the exhibition will run until March 25 and opening reviews were exceptionally complimentary. The Guardian described him as “now revered as one of the greatest figures in literary and artistic history”, while The Times called it a “revelatory show”. For more information, including ticket prices, visit the National Trust web site.

For those seeking a more intimate insight into Blake’s life on the Sussex Coast, the National Trust is also offering brief visits to the cottage in Felpham where he and his wife lived. As the cottage is empty and awaiting renovation, there are only a few times that it is open to the public (on February 14, 21 and March 14). Twenty miles from Petworth, the trustees are clearly hoping that a number of visitors will take up this opportunity to explore more fully Blake’s time outside of London.

A less grand but, in many ways, rather wonderful exhibition is also running in Sheffield at the Graves’ Gallery, part of the public library in the city. William Blake: The Book of Job, brings together a later reprinting of his 1826 illustrations to Job, and is on display until March 3. In the United States, the William Blake Gallery, set up by the antiquarian book collector and owner of a huge selection of Blake-related works, John Windle, in San Francisco, also announced at the end of the month a new exhibition, BLAKE BOOKS: The Commercial Engravings of William Blake, A Tribute to Gerald E. Bentley, Jr. Opening on February 2, it will run until April 30.

Another exhibition covered here previously, William Blake and the Age of Aquarius at Northwestern Block Museum of Art, attracted an amusing review of its catalogue by Dominic Green at The SpectatorWhile slightly facetious in typical Spectator fashion, it also demonstrates a fine appreciation of some aspects of Blake’s reception, an artist “whose visionary voice continues to inspire each new generation”. Another contribution to his reception history is John Yau’s The Wild Children of William Blake, which explores ways in which Blake serves as a model for modern visions of the arts rather than necessarily as a direct source of inspiration. Published by Autonomedia, hopefully I’ll be reviewing it here once it becomes available in the UK. Finally, another new announcement for 2018 was that for the forthcoming publication of Her Infernal Descent by Lonnie Nadler and Zac Thompson, illustrated by Kyle Charles. Published by AfterShock, the graphic novel will tell the story of a grieving mother’s descent to hell “guided by the spirits of William Blake and Agatha Christie” and looks to be one of the most original works inspired by Blake for some time.

Blakespotting: News about William Blake, December 2017

Although December was a fairly quiet month in comparison to November, it did begin with a significant event around a new exhibition dedicated to Blake’s influence on the 1960s counterculture at the Northwester Block Museum of Art. While there had been related events running from September, December 1 saw the formal opening of the exhibition with a panel discussing Blake’s impact on 1960s artists and pop culture at Northwestern, discussing exhibits that included more than 130 paintings, drawings and photographs by artists for whom Blake was a significant inspiration. The installation has already begun to attract some very favourable reviews, such as these by the Huffington Post and Third Coast Review, while I’ll be including a review of the catalogue for the exhibition some time in the near future.

The critical reception of U2’s Songs of Experience, covered in last month’s Blakespotting, has been more mixed but that’s not entirely surprising for one of the largest bands in the world. Kitty Empire at The Guardian dismissed it as “an insipid try-hard”, and Carl Wilson agreed that the band was “trying hard” – another example of damning with faint praise. Kristopher Smith was somewhat more optimistic, although he seemed more impressed by the fact the “band has stuck together for forty-one years” than by the music itself, though David Fricke at Rolling Stone called it their best album in a long time and Alexis Petridis named it album of the week. The most bruisingly dismissive subheading came from Fiona Shepherd’s review for The Scotsman: “Inoffensive stadium fillers abound as U2 opt for positivity, love and broad-brush political sentiments”. Lacklustre reviews didn’t prevent the album debuting at no. 1 on the Billboard 200. My own review deals more with the references to Blake’s work, although I would also recommend In Search of Rock Gods for a very detailed posting on that subject.

In other musical news, Femmes Vocales performed Blake’s “The Lamb” as set to music by John Tavener at Heemskerkse on December 17 and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Shawn Colvin announced a new albumThe Starlighter, with a track based on Blake’s “Cradle Song”, while President Trump’s announcement that he would move the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem prompted a rather odd set of reflections on the Blake-Parry hymn by Warwick McFadyen.

Artistic events in December included an exhibition and presentation at the Mullins Library at the University of Arkansas, where Amanda White gave a demonstration of some of the materials used by Blake to prepare his illuminated books. In New York, a solo exhibition by John Davies on The British Landscape opened at L Parker Stephenson Photographs, including retrospective materials from his 1987 collection, Green and Pleasant Land. Back in the UK, prior to the winter solstice three fairies, designed by David Gosling and loosely based on Blake’s dancing figures, made their appearance at the Rollright Stones in Wiltshire.

And last, but by no means least for fans of Sonic Youth guitarist and vocalist Kim Gordon, there was a chance to see the 2015 German horror movie The Nightmare if you were in Seattle – of note because Gordon plays a literature teacher with an affinity for William Blake. There’s no Blakeana, but you can see the trailer below.

 

The Blake Archive publishes Vala or The Four Zoas

In a major piece of news on Thursday, the Blake Archive announced that it was publishing a digital version of Vala, or The Four Zoas, Blake’s great, unfinished manuscript.

Begun around 1797 when Blake was completing work on the first volume Edward Young’s long poem, The Complaint: or, Night Thoughts on Life, Death & Immortality, Blake worked on and revised his manuscript copy, frequently using proofs of the Young volume (the only one out of a projected four to be published) to compose his epic poem and drawing on a similar structure of nine nights to tell his narrative. Although The Four Zoas itself was never completed, in it Blake created his most complete version of the complex psychodrama of the zoas, those “four mighty ones” in every man, and it furnished a great deal of material for his later epics, Milton a Poem and Jerusalem the Emanation of the Giant Albion. Northrop Frye called The Four Zoas “the greatest abortive masterpiece in English literature”.

As the editors of the Archive observe (echoing plenty of previous editors), the manuscript is “messy” and “complex”. The version available is currently a “preview” version, with full images but, as yet, no transcription of the separate pages, itself an incredibly complex undertaking. The edition is based on fresh digital photography from the British Library and you can find more technical details on the Blake Archive blog.