Blakespotting – April/May, 2016

O THOU with dewy locks, who lookest down
Through the clear windows of the morning, turn
Thine angel eyes upon our western isle,
Which in full choir hails thy approach, O Spring!
(“To Spring”, Poetical Sketches, 1789)

Blake once wrote that in Jerusalem that after “three years slumber on the banks of the Ocean” he was ready to display his giant forms to the public once more. Zoamorphosis has had a year’s slumber since I left the banks of the Ocean, but my Spring resolution is to start writing about Blake more regularly.

Blake biography coverRegarding recent and upcoming events, for those in London on May 25, the Blake Society and Waterstone’s will be presenting a talk by Tobias Churton on “The Religion of William Blake”. Churton, a composer and writer as well as a lecturer in Freemasonry at the University of Exeter Centre for the Study of Esotericism, has produced various films and books on the Rosicrucianism, Gnosticism, Aleister Crowley and, in 2015, published Jerusalem! The Real Life of William Blake. He will be discussing Blake’s own esotericism at the Picadilly branch of Waterstones.

(As a brief aside, for anyone interested in events taking place in Blake’s very own Jerusalem-Babylon, the Londonist has a wonderful collection of links tagged under William Blake.)

The end of April saw the premiere concerts in Pimlico and Framlingham, performed by Trinity Laban Conservatoire’s a capella ensemble, Rubythroat, of Dark Disputes and Artful Teasing, a song cycle composed by Julian Marshall and based on Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience. Marshall’s notes to the work describe it as somewhere between “American spiritual” and “a more genteel legato”.

For Blake scholars, the William Blake Archive has added searchable editions of the forty issues of Blake/An Illustrated Quarterly that were published between 1980 and 1990. BIQ has long been the leading publication devoted to Blake’s work, and the latest issues are part of the ongoing project at the Archive to make the journal freely available to the public.

On the web, there have been some interesting sightings of Blake in recent weeks. The New Yorker includes a profile of the poet and rapper Kate Tempest, who describes her work as influenced by William Blake and the Wu-Tang Clan and there’s a delightful video published by the Khan Academy and Tate in which Maurice Sendak, author of Where The Wild Things Are (the first book I can remember reading), discusses the inspiration of William Blake and how he loves Blake despite the fact that he often doesn’t know what the Romantic poet and artist was talking about. Meanwhile, while working on a photo shoot for Esquire magazine, the actor Idris Elba took out time to recite Blake’s poem “London”, filmed by Tom Craig and Alex F. Webb.

Finally, it’s worth pointing out that the phrase “Blakespotting” was taken from an excellent 2006 article by Mike Goode, in which he referred to a feature originally published in Vanity Fair in 2003 on the “library dining room” at Trump Tower. Ben McGrath, the author of the Vanity Fair piece, observed that there were framed proverbs from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, including “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”. I’ve been thinking about that proverb a lot in recent weeks, and really hope that Blake could see something about the presumptive presidential nominee that a whole host of us might be overlooking at the moment…

William Blake’s Birthday Present


On behalf of the Blake Society.

This Friday, 28 November is William Blake’s birthday and we’re organising a surprise present.

To say Happy Birthday to Mr Blake, please ask everyone you know to donate £1 by texting FEET111 to 70070 from a mobile phone (or you can make a more generous donation by selecting any number between 1 and 9 for the last digit, eg FEET117 donates £7 pounds).

The funds will be used to buy Blake’s Cottage on the Sussex coast where he wrote the words for our national anthem Jerusalem : And Did Those Feet …

Blake’s Cottage will become a home for artists, authors, thinkers, and anyone who shares with Blakea belief that Imagination is Britain’s gift and duty to the world.

Blake is our genius whose influence on the arts, poetry and creativity reverberates around the globe today. Yet 257 years after his birth, he still does not have a home in this ‘green and pleasant land’.

Cottage-in-MiltonWe will change that, creating a home for Blake, for visitors young & old, for everyone in the world who believes in the primacy of the Imagination – The Only Nation Is The Imagination!

So what better way to celebrate Blake’s birthday than to push ajar the door to his Cottage? We have already raised £92,000, so kick open the door a little more with your FEET111 The phone operators generously give on the whole amount of your gift to our registered charity without deduction.

So on Blake’s birthday help us open a Visionary Home where we can look forward to the pitter patter of feet and the fire of chariots for generations to come.


Golgonooza in Felpham

Blakes' cottage
The Blakes’ cottage at Felpham, image from The Blake Society

This weekend, the Golgonooza Festival will be taking place in Felpham, running from 18-20 September. The aim of the festival is to celebrate our cultural heritage, old and new, in the village where Blake lived from 1800-1803. It was during this time that he began work on his epic poem, Milton, and he described the village as a place where “Heaven opens here on all sides her golden gates”.

The Festival is part of the Big Blake Project, an umbrella project that brings together the Big Blake trail, Big Blake arts, Blake’s Cottage and the Golgonooza Festival itself. Set up by Rachel Searle, the project celebrates Blake’s life and work, regenerating culture and arts with a particular focus on public spaces around Felpham and Bognor Regis.

Among those participating in the Festival are the punk poet Attila the Stockbroker, the children’s writer K.M. Lockwood, and the storyteller Abbie Palanche. You can find out more details about the event at

As part of its efforts to emphasise Blake’s connections to the village, the Big Blake Project is also involved with the Blake Society in a plan to raise £520,000 via crowdfunding to purchase the cottage where Blake lived with his wife Catherine. The cottage came onto the market last year, the first time it has been available since 1928.

The Blake Society has until October 31st to raise the money needed and, if successful, will place the cottage in a charitable trust to be held in perpetuity for the benefit of the nation. The campaign is endorsed by Sir Andrew Motion, Philip Pullman, Stephen Fry, Tracy Chevalier, Russell Brand, Alan Moore, Cosmo Sheldrake and Jeremy Reed. You can find more details, as well as how to donate, at

Apple, Blake and Songs of Innocence

U2's Songs of Innocence at the iPhone 6 launch. Image from 9to5Mac
U2’s Songs of Innocence at the iPhone 6 launch. Image from 9to5Mac

It’s not often that a writer on Blake gets an excuse to link to the biggest technology event of the year. In case you haven’t heard, Apple yesterday announced the launch of the new iPhone 6 (“bigger than bigger” according to their site) and Apple Watch. And the connection to William Blake, who died a couple of centuries before he could get his hands on either device? The release of U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence, free to iTunes users.

The link to Blake is not entirely out of the blue. Steve Jobs was once described as having an “inexhaustible interest” in the works of Blake, while U2 have more than a passing interest in the Romantic poet: the lyrics of “Beautiful Ghost” from the album are Blake’s “Introduction” to Songs of Experience. Obviously that link has remained engrained somewhere, leading to the latest album being made available exclusively via Apple this week.

Not everyone has been impressed by U2’s invocation of Blake, however (and John Doran’s opinion piece at is particularly worth reading).

As the equivalent of a graphic designer of his day, it’s pretty clear to me that Blake would have been a Mac user today (for all that I secretly desire him to have been a Linux hacker) – at least when he could have afforded any kind of computer. I’ll follow with a review on the U2 album shortly, but in the meantime you can listen to it at

William Blake’s Manuscripts: A One-Day Symposium

BlakesManuscriptsSymposiumThe schedule has now been set and registration is open for William Blake’s Manuscripts: A One-Day Symposium. This symposium will be held at the Huntington Library on June 7th, 2013, and the list of Blake luminaries speaking include (in alphabetical order) Luisa Calé, Mark Crosby, Morris Eaves, Alexander Gourlay, Steve Hindle, Rachel Lee, Joseph Viscomi, Angus Whitehead, and John Windle. Attendance costs $31.50 and includes lunch, introductory remarks, two plenary sessions, two panels, and closing remarks by Mark Crosby (lunch is optional: conference registration alone is $15.00 and free for students). I would encourage anyone interested in Blake and able to travel to San Marino, California in June to take advantage of this opportunity.