I was glad to be interviewed by William Blake scholar Caroline Anjali Ritchie last year. She is looking at how Blake and London shape each other – the mapping of a mutual imagination that continues to this day. Warning: this is a long interview attached, thank you Caroline, for letting me digress like Blake’s untrimmed vines in his garden in Hercules Road, Lambeth.
Here is her account of our conversation along with plenty of examples of my own work, as influenced by Blake, on the Zoamorphosis site, which is in any case, a fabulous rabbit hole of advanced Blakery.
The Practical Visionary, published in 2018, necessitated some proper inky printmaking. We knew that to connect authentically with Blake, we’d need to inhabit the etching studio, and join him and all printmakers in the back to front thinking that is the hallmark of such a practice. The book includes a series of 7 etchings by Chris McCabe and myself, editioned in Lambeth at Slaughterhaus studios. Each work was photo-etched onto a zinc plate, and each one is signed by us both. They were printed on a press similar to the one Blake himself turned a couple of centuries ago in a nearby street.
The final set of etchings was editioned by master printmaker Rob White. Ten of these sets of the original twenty that we made are still available via Hercules Editions. Printed on beautiful Somerset paper and rather tiny, (the plates are each about A7 and fit in a standard large postcard frame) the whole series of 7 is available for £300. Individually the etchings are £70. Those buying etchings will also receive a free copy of the book in which they appear.
Thanks for revisiting this city of image and text in which we citizens continually collaborate. And for reading my blog.
Poet Anna Robinson hosts a monthly programme on Soho Radio called ThePoetry Parlour, in which guests are invited to read work and discuss interesting poetic questions live on air.
I spent a very fun hour in the bijou radio studio on Great Windmill Street on Friday, with Anna and Blake scholar Dr David Worrall, talking about William Blake – as a child of Soho, visionary Londoner and all round majestic influence.
We also each got to pick a song to go with the subject, and read a couple of pieces of work. You’ll have to listen via the link below if you’re curious, but here’s a clue, one poem I read was from The Practical Visionary , and the other was a brand new one written over the last month when I lived in a castle, as a lucky recipient of a Hawthornden Fellowship.
Thanks so much for having me Anna, for the pretend studio tea (in real pretend cracked floral teacups) and the real hardcore coffee to follow, needed to propel me to a necessary browse at wonderful new bookshop The Second Shelf, in nearby Smiths Court.
As a comedown from the fully catered Scottish castle life, I recommend chatting about Blake & books with nice people in Soho as a good first step!
Poet & collaborator Chris McCabe and I have been sharing and exchanging ideas about one of our favourite genii, William Blake for a few years now, including teaching creative courses on him for The Poetry School.
These have involved reading, writing, walking Blake’s Lambeth (including the amazing Southbank mosaics, e.g. above) drawing and collage and also a printmaking component, for which we were lucky enough to get to use Slaughterhaus Print Studios in Stockwell, where students could try the heavy wheel of an etching press, and immerse themselves in some of that engraver’s back to front thinking that was such an essential part of Blake’s process.
This September sees the publication of Chris and I’s book in response to William B: The PracticalVisionary, as well as an exhibition at the Poetry Cafe of some of the original work that this has generated.
Our publisher, the small but heroic Hercules Editions, run by poet Tamar Yoseloff, was named for the road Blake and his wife Catherine lived on in their most productive 10 years, making illuminated books in Lambeth, the borough I was born and raised in and live in still, and the borough Chris is in during his working week, as the librarian of the National Poetry Library at the Southbank.
Do look at The Practical VisionaryKickstarter campaign – there’s more here about the way we created the content and the pages, starting with quite a funny spontaneous video, made at the end of a publishing meeting. Though I say so myself, there are some amazing art bargains available in the list of rewards for supporters.
We’ll be launching the book officially at the Poetry Cafe on October 17th, but the week before, there’s a chance to come and do some Blakean responding of your own at our evening workshop at The Poetry Society.
Whoever your Blake turns out to be, I hope you catch a glimpse of his colour and fire somewhere in the pages of The Practical Visionary.
Golgonooza the spiritual Four-fold London eternal In immense labours & sorrows, ever building, ever falling, Thro Albions four Forests which overspread all the Earth, From London Stone to Blackheath east: to Hounslow west: To Finchley north: to Norwood south
In October I was one of a group of eight artist printmakers engaged in making a new piece of work to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the founding of the world’s first ghetto.
This was a space established in Venice in 1516, on the site of the old foundry there, (making it one of the few campos without a church) that was created as a concession to Jews, permitting them residence in the city.
Originally the word would have had a soft ‘g’ as it was where the metal was thrown (or jettisoned,) a ‘getto’, but as the first wave of incumbents were Ashkenazy Jews, and strangers to the soft ‘g’, they pronounced it like get, and thus introduced the world to the ‘ghetto’!
The commission was to make a New Venice Haggadah, deriving inspiration from a beautiful edition published in Venice in 1609, as well as with reference to the contemporary community, and of course our own personal responses and processes.
The haggadah is the Passover text, and is like a script for use at the Seder table. It conducts all the members of the family through the story of the Exodus, with ritual foods, questions, songs and wine. It is a chance to think about oppression and slavery, and wish freedom to all who remain oppressed. There may be nearly as many haggadot and interpretations of the story as there are families who mark the festival.
We were invited to do this work by Beit Venezia, headed up by Shaul Bassi, (far left, above) and as well as us artists, Vassar professor Marc Michael Epstein, (far right, above) joined our group to show us some of the vast history of illustrated haggadot. We were also lucky to be shown many intriguing aspects of Venice and its workings by our events coordinator Barbara del Mercato.
Right to left (like Hebrew) we are Barbara, Shaul, Frances Katz Levine (a supporter of the project), Kyra Matustik, Josh Baum, then on the sofa, also right to left: Andi LaVine Arnovitz, Nathan Gotlib, Jacqueline Nicholls (lead artist) Hillel Smith, Yael David-Cohen and me.
Our group of eight artists came from the UK , the US, Belgium, Israel, the Czech Republic – and with varying degrees of knowledge and experience in both etching and Jewishness!
Our base for the three week residency was the Scuola Grafica Internazionale di Venezia, a gorgeous and well equipped printmaking studio in Cannaregio. We stayed in apartments about a half hour walk away. My room made a nifty temporary studio.
A peal of bells came echoing out from this jaunty corner tower to wake us promptly at 7:00 each morning.
We read and thought about the text together in detail over the first week, as well as looking at significant treasures in Venice, such as the first printed Talmud there, which I was pleased to discover looks quite a lot like concrete poetry.
At the end of the first week Jacqueline allocated each of us two sections of the text to respond to visually. Mine were both densely emotional passages, one of suffering, one of joy. This was re: We cried out and the one below represents praise (very necessary Hebrew help came from my fellow artists Josh and Jacqueline )
During the second week, we drew and prepared, then etched our copper plates… as well as exploring the city, getting lost and looking at as much art as we could possibly squeeze in around the coffees.
It is such a sensational city: light zipping off the water to illuminate everything from the intricate and wonky palaces to the vegetable delivery boats, and the bridges; more of which seemed to appear daily, like a baffling dream.
Week three saw us unite and print: 6oo sheets of dampened Fabriano paper, many inky rags, many ragged but mainly undampened spirits!
The original copper plates and the editions of 25 prints per etching per artist (we each made 3 plates, that’s why we were editioning 600 prints in week 3!) remain in Venice for now and will be exhibited as part of the ghetto quincentery events. A beautiful version of our New Venice Hagaddah is also in production in Jerusalem, and will be for sale in time for Passover 2016.
You can read more about the project in the current (January 2016) issue of Jewish Rennaisance magazine, or watch us and laugh as we are dubbed in Italian on TV – and see the studio, the ghetto and the other artists.
Thanks to all members of our group, who were wonderful to work with, to Jacqueline Nicholls in particular for inviting me, to Shaul Bassi of Beit Venezia and Lorenzo de Castro and Alan Rogers at the Scuola Grafica for hosting us, and to Barbara del Mercato for showing us Venice from the inside.
I have also written a small stack of new Venice poems, hopefully these will find a home one day, in or out of the poetry ghetto…
Meanwhile, here’s to 2016: ink, friendship and freedom!
The Listening Forest is to take root in Covent Garden, at the Poetry Cafe.
Please saunter under its inky boughs, as they spread into the wintery world of a London November.
I’ll be showing original work from the residency/ project undertaken with Fermynwoods Contemporary as well as new screen prints I’ve developed. Drawings and prints will be for sale, as will the book in both A5 and A3 concertina incarnations. I’ll also be running some events alongside the show, so watch this space.
Private view: Thursday 4th November with readings, drawing, cake and wine.
If you want to experiment and make a book where image and text cohabit, however cosily or haughtily, there are still places left on my course at Morley College, starting on September 21st for nine weeks:BOOK IMAGE TEXT and also in the spring and summer terms.
Here’s an example of sheer image text mastery by a small citizen of Brent, from a holiday session in Willesden library.
A page inspired by each item in this sunlit window would make a nice fancy poem sequence!
Talking of which, I have three visual poems featured in a lovely online journal called wardrobe, find them and wear them straightway, they are in drawer five, and are written from the point of views of a skirt, a mans jumper and a slip.
Also in textile mode, my screen printed cotton Disaster hankie appeared in the glorious new volume from Hayward Gallery Publications THE NEW CONCRETE, where I’m proud to be in company with poets and artists I’ve long admired, like John Furnival and Edwin Morgan.
The launch at The Whitechapel was epic, with brilliant readings from many contributors.
Last week also saw the launch of another genre-busting book. Over the Line has over 70 pages of brand new poetry comics, including a collaborative spread by me and Chris McCabe, called The Practical Application of Colour. It was fun reading the piece which has very few words in it, (unlike this palaver.)
A good place to buy the book is at Free Verse book fair which takes place at Conway Hall on 26th September, and is a great treat for those interested in alternative publishing and new poetry.
Some unLondon things coming up: I’ll have a couple of works in 50 artist strong new show: a wide interpretation of still life, this autumn at The Art Stable, Dorset. I took this still life at the farm adjacent to the gallery on a visit, but my actual pieces are painted and feature words again.
I’m also excited to be reading at the famously fabulous Swindon Poetry Festival on Sunday 4th October. There will be all kinds of top poetry and related capers going on in town for a few days, so have a look at the programme and come along.
For the remainder of October I’ll be in residence in Venice at the Scuola Grafica Venezia. One of eight invited artists, I’ll be working in their beautiful printmaking studio, on a project to make a new and contemporary Haggadah to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the worlds first ghetto, set up there in 1516. Fascinating stuff.
Any quality work that comes from this will be added to the forest show forthwith.
Looking forward to plenty of real tea under imaginary trees at the Poetry Cafe, see you up there.