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Sometimes I find myself in disagreement with Kathleen Raine, but hey! it’s okay for
Blakeans to disagree. It’s not like when Marxists disagree. This time I suspect I won’t be the only one who disagrees with the great lady and self-styled ‘Blake’s Secretary’. One of the essays in her book Golgonooza – City of Imagination meditates on ‘beautiless’ cities:
‘When I was young, and together with my Cambridge contemporaries, more or less influenced by Marxist idealism we were supposed to admire the then newly-built Battersea Power Station. It was the work of one of our best architects, Giles Gilbert Scott, and conceived as an example of architecture embodying the socialist ideal of a Worker State; a totally work-orientated secular society of collective effort towards a materialist Utopia in which all material needs would be satisfied. There was much talk about building beautiful factories for the workers, in those days, and of adorning them with modern art. And yet the utile, however worthy the purpose or technically impressive the construction, has never yet succeeded in creating an architecture that speaks to the imagination in its own language. Blake would surely have seen, in merely decorating factories or machines in themselves expressing material values, a false view of man and his purpose on earth, an evasion of fundamental issues, a merely superficial decoration of the ever-desolate streets of Babylon. Technology does not address the soul, does not speak to, or from, the archetype. We may admire the functional utility of Battersea Power Station but we cannot love it; our souls cannot inhabit it, as we can the cathedrals of Durham, or of Chartres, or the temples of Athens or Karnak, or the mosques of Agra or Cordova, or any temple of the gods under whatever name. In the sanctuaries of all cultures we feel at home, we feel a sense of familiarity, whereas in the secular cities of the modern West we feel strangely alien, perpetual exiles … from something that is not reflected back to us by our surroundings, whose absence is ever-present to us.’
Assuredy, I understand Raine’s sincere alienation from the sordid aspects of modern urbanity as well as the transcendental sensation one experiences when visiting holy sites. My personal favourite is the Haram al Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) in Jerusalem, an outdoor platform with a commanding view of the city in all directions, at the centre of which is the astonishing Dome on the Rock.
But I cannot share her critical attitude towards Battersea Power Station. Can anyone? I have never been inside any of its incarnations but I love the exterior designed by Giles Gilbert Scott, grandson of Sir George Gilbert Scott (who designed St Pancras Station). The four white chimneys add a ‘spiritual fourfold’ dimension to a building which looms like an ancient Babylonian temple on the London skyline. The religiosity is perhaps suggested by its ‘brick cathedral’ style; and it was hailed as a ‘temple of power’. It was and remains a cult classic. Though now converted to luxury flats one can imagine the great furnaces raging in the 1940s as it burnt the coal necessary to fill London with energy. Far from Blake disapproving, am I the only Blakean who can see Los with his hammer amid the original flames of a riverside site which seems straight from Golgonooza itself? Coincidentally, it is only a stone’s throw from where Blake married a local girl in 1782 at St Mary’s Battersea Church.
Dear Blake walkers
Thank you very much from New River Press and I for joining us on the unprecedented adventure of five different poetopographical William Blake walks on consecutive Sundays in London. It felt a bit like this:
All fell towards the Center, sinking downwards in dire ruin,
In the South remains a burning Fire: in the East. a Void
In the West, a World of raging Waters: in the North; solid Darkness
Unfathomable without end: but in the midst of these
Is Built eternally the sublime Universe of Los & Enitharmon
On ‘Nov 3 Central’ we began in South Molton street where Blake lived for 17 years and processed through the central London sites where he was born and baptised, where he studied and worked. The family home where he later held his one and only solo show in 1809 is now the site of a boarded up Patisserie Valerie. A towerblock, William Blake House, looms unapologetically behind. The loss of 28 Broad Street to the demolition ball is a tragedy and scandal, but the zone is still a very special portal in Soho. ‘The Corner of Broad Street weeps…’ We ended having a drink in what is now called Broadwick Street, chez John Snow. Thanks to my brother Roddy McDevitt for his readings from Blake’s poems.
On ‘Nov 10 East’ we donned the bonnet rouge for the most incendiary of the walks which saw Blake paired off with the medieval firebrand Wat Tyler. In 1381, Tyler and his cohorts burned down the Savoy Palace, home of the most hated man in the realm, John of Gaunt. In 1821, Blake came to live at 3 Fountain Court – now Savoy Passage – by what is today the staff entrance to the famous hotel. When I pointed to the first floor where William and Catherine lived for six years and where Blake died, a porter informed us that the space is one of four Savoy kitchens. We progressed from Blake’s death-place to his burial ground via the Newgate site of the Gordon Riots and then Smithfield where Tyler was killed by William Walworth. Bearding the lion in his den, we confronted the statue of Sir Francis Bacon in Grays Inn until it began to sprout batwings and cloven hooves. Having found the site of the long disappeared Albion Tavern, we ended in a still extant pub, The Masque Haunt, seated between information boards about Milton and Blake. Thanks to Stephen Micalef for his readings from Blake inc. ‘Let the Slave’.
On ‘Nov 17 South’ we met at the Blackfriars site of Albion Mills on the south side of the bridge – which was attacked by arsonists in 1791, after Blake had just moved south to Lambeth. A hat-trick of burnt-out buildings! We then explored Arthur Rimbaud’s Victorian Waterloo before crossing into Blake’s Georgian Lambeth. After attending the strange funeral of Friedrich Engels at the London Necropolis Railway, we explored the Blake mosaics under the arches and then invaded the site of his garden behind the facade of William Blake Estate on Hercules Road. We ended in The Pineapple. Thanks to Adam Sherry for his reading of ‘Ruts’ by Arthur Rimbaud.
On ‘Nov 24 North’ we braved the ‘ostentatious exertion’ which is the mark of ‘the Soldiers of Satan’ i.e. walking Hampstead Heath in search of Blake and other visionary poets. The Oak Hill Grove site of Gerard Manley Hopkins youth remains suspiciously druidic – we recited ‘Merlin’s Prophecy’ by a tower block called Merlin House, noting its eerie relevance to the Prince Andrew saga. Following in the footsteps of Blake in his old age, we called upon the cottage of his friend and fellow artist John Linnell in the wilds of North End, finding sanctuary in the Old Bull and Bush. Thanks to Jennifer Johnson for reading Joanna Baillie, to David Amery for reciting Blake’s ‘Never seek to tell thy love’, and to Jacky Ivimy for sharing a few thoughts about her ancestor John Linnell, in situ.
The harvest shall flourish in wintry weather
When two virginities meet together:
The King & the Priest must be tied in a tether
Before two virgins can meet together.
On ‘Dec 1 West’ we gathered under Marble Arch and tried to locate the exact position of the Gate of Los. I imagine it as Marble Arch swung sideways and repositioned at the very beginning of Oxford Street, arching over the street itself, where the turnpike toll once stood.
Bending across the road of Oxford Street; it from Hyde Park
To Tyburns deathful shades, admits the wandering souls
Of multitudes who die from Earth
We honoured the dead on the triangular traffic island on ye olde Watling Street, now Edgware Road, then moved from the burial site of Cromwell to the current home of Tony Blair. This marathon walk took us though the site of the Cato Street Conspiracy of 1820, and the former homes of Charles and Frederick Tatham. Catherine Blake lived with the latter after Blake’s death until her own demise in 1831. This was a disaster as Frederick Tatham later sold off and destroyed many of Blake’s copperplates and manuscripts. We met another of Blake’s disciples George Richmond as well as one of Blake’s possible British-Israelite teachers, Richard Brothers. After locating Jerusalem’s Pillars at the site of the Jews’ Harp Tavern we strenuously mounted Primrose Hill. Thanks to John Higgs for extemporising about the monumental power of Blake’s words carved into stone. Thanks also to Heathcote Ruthven for reading ‘A Little Boy Lost’ and ‘The Chimney Sweep’; and to David Erdos for reading ‘The Wisdom of Urizen’ and ‘The fields from Islington to Marybone’. One or two others did readings during the series, but I didn’t get their names.
Thanks to all who came on all of the walks, and to anyone who came on any. Check out 2020’s Poets Calendar on the New River Press site. There might be something for you; and there will be additions especially in the summer months. The final word is from Los:
Inspiration deny’d; Genius forbidden by laws of punishment:
I saw terrified; I took the sighs & tears, & bitter groans:
I lifted them into my Furnaces; to form the spiritual sword.
That lays open the hidden heart: I drew forth the pang
Of sorrow red hot: I workd it on my resolute anvil:
Photo: Jacek Zebrowski
LATITUDE: 51.5228 / 51°31’21″N
LONGITUDE: -0.1244 / 0°7’27″W
A POETRY BENEFIT FOR THE HORSE HOSPITAL
DAMIAN LE BAS
PAUL DE MUTH
FREE POETRY SERIES
by RAGGED LION PRESS
Mon 11 Nov, The Horse Hospital, Colonnade, Bloomsbury, London WC1N 1JD
Doors. 7pm. Donation….
Photo: Julie Goldsmith
(APOLOGIES FOR THE UNSOLICITED AND UNWANTED ADS BELOW…)
And sixty-four thousand Genii, guard the Eastern Gate:
And sixty-four thousand Gnomes, guard the Northern Gate
And sixty-four thousand Nymphs, guard the Western Gate:
And sixty-four thousand Fairies, guard the Southern Gate:
– from Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion
Poet and walking artist Niall McDevitt in conjunction with New River Press has announced ‘A Month of Blake Walks’ – from 3 November to 1 December – to celebrate the renewed fascination with the poet-painter who is currently the subject of a major retrospective at Tate Britain.
The walking lectures will enable Blake enthusiasts and even experts to immerse themselves in the psychogeographocal landscape of one of England’s most singular and astonishing geniuses. The five-walk series will be as in-depth as a module at a top university, but affordable to anyone.
McDevitt, who studied English Literature at University College Dublin and has published three full collections of uncompromisingly countercultural poetry, is one of many contemporary artists in various mediums who identify as Blakeans. His first published poem ‘Off-Duty’ was part of a Poems on the Buses / Greenpeace series called ‘London – The Living City’. When the laminated poems were returned to their authors, the poets were taken by red bus on a mystery tour from the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden to St James’ Church in Piccadilly where William Blake had been baptised in 1757. The poets recited their poems at the beautiful marble baptismal font designed by Grinling Gibbons. Thus began McDevitt’s 20-year exploration of William Blake sites in the capital, and of the unique ‘Spiritual Fourfold’ philosophy woven into the poet-artist’s Illuminated Books.
McDevitt’s walks have been featured on BBC London, Radio 4’s The Poet of Albion, BBC 2’s television documentary series My Life in Verse, and have been favourably reviewed in International Times, Sunday Times, Sunday Telegraph, The Idler and others.
Central: William Blake in W1
Sunday 3 Nov meeting at the junction of Oxford Street and South Molton Street. 1pm-3.30pm. £10
This walk takes us through much of the London timeline of William Blake, including the site of his birth as well as the one surviving Georgian townhouse where Blake actually lived.
McDevitt identifies – street by street – the places where Blake wrote Songs of Innocence, the C of E church where his non-conformist parents were forced to marry, and the Leicester Square scene of the honeymoon with his illiterate but beautiful wife Catherine. Blake reappears and disappears in the coffee shops, beauticians and bookies of today.
‘I write in South Molton Street what I both see and hear’.
East: A William Blake /Wat Tyler Walk
Sun 10 Nov meeting at the main entrance to the Savoy Hotel, off Strand. 1pm – 3.30pm. £10
This walk begins at the site of Blake’s much mythologised death in the disappeared street of Fountain Row and finishes at the site of Blake’s burial in the dissenters’ graveyard at Bunhill Fields.
En route it passes through historic sites associated with the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 and the Gordon Riots of 1780, the latter of which was the major popular insurgency of Blake’s lifetime.
Though Blake himself was caught up in the Gordon Riots more by accident than design, he was sympathetic to the idea of popular revolt and later drew a portrait of Wat Tyler as one of his ‘Visionary Heads’ series circa 1818.
‘Then Old Nobodaddy aloft / Farted and belched and coughed / And said I love hanging and drawing and quartering / Every bit as well as war and slaughtering’
South: A William Blake / Arthur Rimbaud Walk
Sun 17 Nov meeting at the southern side of Blackfriars Bridge. 1pm – 3.30pm. £10
This walk brilliantly combines an exploration of Arthur Rimbaud’s Waterloo alongside William Blake’s Lambeth, passing through the fragments of Georgian and Victorian London that still remain to bear witness.
Rimbaud lived in Waterloo in 1874, while Blake had been a longterm resident of North Lambeth from 1790-1800. Though it’s not known if Rimbaud had read or even heard of Blake, McDevitt offers a unique and plausible account of how he might easily have done so – as well as masterfully comparing Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell as apocalyptic prose poems.
‘As I was walking among the fires of hell, delighted with the enjoyments of Genius; which to Angels look like torment and insanity…’
North: William Blake and the Visionary Poets of Hampstead
Sun 24 Nov meeting at Hampstead tube station. 1pm – 3.30pm. £10
Though William Bake never lived in Hampstead, he had a lifelong association with the area and was even offered a rent free home there in his final years, which he agonisedly turned down.
McDevitt traces the exemplary friendship between Blake and his enlightened patron John Linnell, as well as discussing Blake in a pantheon of great mystical poets all of whom passed though Hampstead during the romantic and modernist eras.
This eco-immersive walk will finish with a stroll across the heath to find one of the least known but most intellectually historic homes in London, Wyldes Farm in North End.
‘Because I was happy upon the heath, / And smiled among the winter’s snow, / They clothed me in the clothes of death, / And taught me to sing the notes of woe.’
West: Jerusalem’s Pillars
Sun 1 Dec meeting under Marble Arch itself. 1pm-4pm.
As well as exploring the sites where Blake lived, worked and studied, the series also explores site that Blake mythologised in his poetry and art.
The single most important of those sites to the mature Blake was Tyburn, site of public executions from 1196-1783.
McDevitt also locates the fascinating site of his wife Catherine Blake’s widowhood and tells the horrifying story of what happened to Blake’s manuscripts and copperplates after her death.
The walk culminates at the bardic site of Primrose Hill with its wonderful monument to Blake’s conversation with ‘the Spiritual Sun’. En route McDevitt will try to pinpoint the visionary site of ‘Jerusalem’s pillars’, tracing it to a childhood memory of visiting The Jews Harp Tavern.
THE FIELDS from Islington to Marybone,
To Primrose Hill and Saint John’s Wood,
Were builded over with pillars of gold;
And there Jerusalem’s pillars stood.
Special concessionary rate of all five walks for the price of three: £30.
Urizen Luvah Tharmas Urthona
Reason Emotion Sensation Energy
South East West North
Zenith Centre Circumference Nadir
(Apologies for the disgusting and involuntary adverts below:)
As an Irish, mostly political poet, I’d like to pay homage to an English work of art that has had a powerful influence on my own artistic and political sensibility.
It is the opening track of an acknowledged masterpiece, ENTERTAINMENT! by Gang of Four.
The music is unique, sparse, raw, clean. Everything counts, every bang of the drum, every thrum of the bass, every chop of the guitar and blow of the melodica.
‘Ether’ is a risky opening track because it is so strange. The music slows down, the guitar clangs like church bells. and the melodica makes you feel like you’re sniffing petrol.
But the fact that it’s a protest song about Ireland is what makes it so edgy. It’s an Irish rebel song by an English band. The lyrics were co-authored by Andy Gill and Jon King and are co-sung, almost as a call-and-response in the ancient troubadour tradition.
Gang of Four lyrics in general are influenced by Situationism, but this track – it claims on Wikipedia – is about ‘special category status prisoners on Northern Ireland’.
The style of the writing mirrors the style of political slogans, chanted at the barricades.
‘Dirt behind the daydream’ is often the main point. English people go on with their daily lives unaware of the terrible realities of what historians dubbed The Dirty War and The Dirty Protest. The two voices reflect the parallel situations. Occupied Ireland. England with its own problems.
Individual lines such as ‘H Block torture’ and ‘fly the flag on foreign soil’ cut to the quick and immediately take the listener out of the zone of anything remotely resembling ‘entertainment’. The listener becomes a victim of torture, drugged on ether, forced to listen to white noise.
The denouement is brilliant, a single slogan which seems to ventriloquise the inexorable logic of the British government itself:
there may be oil
It’s an anti-imperial artwork of the first order, visceral and conceptual. Play loud!
(Apologies for any adverts below. They’re obligatory. They don’t pay me. I’d have to pay WordPress for them not to appear.)
Since words nor threates nor any other thinge canne make you to avoyd this certaine ill Weele cutte your throtes, in your temples praying Not paris massacre so much blood did spill.. Fly, Flye, & never returne. per. Tamberlaine
The events of 1593 are uniquely awful in the history of English literature.
Though the year began well for Christopher Marlowe with a new play The Massacre at Paris debuting at The Rose, his nemesis was approaching.
Thomas Kyd, a former friend and roommate of Marlowe’s, author of the influential revenge drama The Spanish Tragedy, was enjoying his sixth year in service to an unknown aristocrat, possibly the Earl of Sussex or the Earl of Derby. He would soon lose his post, his reputation and his liberty.
Plague returned, shutting the London theatres, and natives were becoming increasingly resentful of the few thousand French, Belgian and Dutch immigrants who were resident in the city.
On May 5, a 53-line piece of racist doggerel was fixed on the door of the Dutch Church at Austin Friars. The unknown author signed it ‘Tamberlaine’.
This was to be the death warrant of the two greatest poet-playwrights before Shakespeare.
Poet, walking artist and psychohistorian Niall McDevitt tells the story of how the Elizabethan ‘police state’ tortured and – arguably – murdered Thomas Kyd and Christopher Marlowe.
Sun 23 Jun meeting at Blackfriars station (north bank) at 2pm. The walk will last approximately two and a half hours. £10