The Society was approached during the year by an artist with a curious request; she was collecting dust from buildings where famous visionaries had once lived or worked and then turning the dust into bricks to build a better city.
In our own way, through the Society’s activities and events, we also try to give back the dust Blake borrowed.
During the summer on Peckham Rye we replanted the famous oak tree, long lost, where William Blake saw his first vision – a tree bejeweled with angels – and a poet led us on a walk across the Rye seeking where angels might be found today, on this earth, not in our dreams.
Blake’s own quest covered many arts & disciplines and we try to reflect this in the range of our monthly talks. Guest lecturers spoke on physiognomy and the human form divine, on spiritual transformation and the spirit world, and more challengingly, on how violence can serve as a positive force for good. We shared a toast to the Wars of Love with our fellow Blakean travelers at St James’s, the Vagabonds, and we premiered an independent film inspired by Blake’s London.
Our annual gathering in the dissenters graveyard at Bunhill Fields was enriched by a performance of a one-man play, Letters from Paradise, while the necessary administration of an AGM was eased with a practical session on the Alexander Technique, a technique pioneered by actors who recognize how much of our lives are impoverished by habit and a resistance to explore.
Blake himself had no such reluctance and knew the importance of play. He and the rumbustious John Varley would meet up at midnight to share friendship, art and visions. During the small hours, Blake would summon ghosts from the past and record them in his sketchbook, the Visionary Heads. We recreated this friendship with our own gathering at midnight, each ghost confronted with a pencil and paper.
In the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible, we celebrated Blake’s birthday in the body of the Church where Lucy Winkett chaired a discussion on Blake and the Bible between the Dean Ireland Professor of the Exegesis of Holy Scripture at the University of Oxford, Chris Rowland, and a man who needs no title, Philip Pullman.
Some say the Bible succeeded in imposing orthodoxy onto a protesting church through the sheer beauty of its language. For Blake, a dissenting imagination was his principal tool and his orthodoxy. So our final event of the year was an exploration of Blake’s figure of Revolution, Orc. This event took place in a tent – the Tent City University on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral; in the presence of poets – the unacknowledged legislators of the world – and held just before Christmas, it was a setting redolent of a stable.
During the year we have tried to occupy London with visions and dreams; we have even returned some of Blake’s dust in the form of a Tithe levied on our income; it is important for an institutional organization to realize its inherent limitations and that visions belong to individuals not corporations. This year the Tithe Grant was awarded to 3 young artists for their visionary project to stage Blake’s Everlasting Gospel, here, in our lives.
Chair of The Blake Society