Happy Birthday William Blake! and VALA 3
Today we launch the third issue of our journal, VALA. You can download it as a free pdf here.
We, Sibylle Erle, John Riordan and Jason Whittaker, started on our journey about a year ago. Last November we decided to tackle yet another global issue: the Climate Crisis. Feeling deeply and passionately about Blake and his relevance to the social and environmental challenges of the modern world, we wondered how reading, viewing, and talking about Blake can help us to make a difference. That was the point when we started a VALA conversation about Blake and nature.
Blake is not a Nature Poet, which is a judgment long since reserved for Wordsworth, who wrote about the natural world and encounters with human beings in the landscape of the Lake District. And yet, the opening lines of ‘Auguries of Innocence’ take us to the heart of our connection with nature:
To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
This VALA conversation is an attempt to rethink our world through Blake’s world. We can all do something. We can all build and invest in relationships with all that exists around us. Perhaps the future can be regenerative if we better understand global and personal interdependencies. In the words of our President, Kae Tempest (On Connection, 2022: 50):
We, the readers or listeners, are crucial to the text, story or song becoming powerful. We are not impartial observers; we are a fundamental part of the circuitry; if we are not connected, the charge will not be able to flow.
We proudly present more than we could ever have imagined: gold dust opinions, academic pearls, and creative diamonds on 108 pages: more than 40 pieces from more than 50 contributors.
This VALA has been created by a growing, international network of The Blake Society members. You will be able to trace green themes and tropes across the pages as core idea and images connect and gather in momentum to confront the environmental degradation of nature.
Sibylle Erle, Editor of VALA
I can’t think of a more apposite theme for our new issue of VALA than Nature, as COP 27 wraps up with partial and insufficient successes and the world continues to slide towards ecological catastrophe. As Sibylle says, Blake is not primarily known as a Nature Poet, and, like much of his poetry, his attitude to nature is… complicated. He often seems profoundly uncomfortable in the messy, biological stuff of this ‘vegetable world’, conflating The Biblical Fall with Creation, and yet, in his much quoted letter to Rev Trusler, he writes that ‘to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself’.
Blake witnessed the beginnings of the revolution in energy and industry that have led humanity, and the countless species who (have no choice but to) share this planet with us, to this precarious moment. But one of the challenges he presents to sometime misanthropes like me is his unwavering insistence on – in fact his love for – the human. Like many who despair at the seemingly unstoppable Climate Crisis I am often tempted to think that the world would be better off without us, but in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell Blake insists that ‘Where man is not nature is barren’. In Blake’s writing and art I see a clear diagnosis of what has gone wrong with humanity but also a steadfast belief in our spiritual and creative potential.
While I’m celebrating the good in humanity (for now) I’d like to thank in particular the illustrators and artists who have so kindly submitted their incredible work and time to this issue of VALA. As our journal’s Art Director, and a practising illustrator myself, it’s really important to me that VALA looks incredible (much of this is down to our Managing Editor and design genius, Jason Whittaker), and that Blake’s status as an engraver/illustrator in his time is answered by vibrant work from contemporary illustrators.
So, a heartfelt thank you to Nelin Baykaldi, Diane Eagles, G. E. Gallas, Sam Greasley, Sam Knot, Hugo W. Larman, Richard Hemmings, Sally Kindberg, Helen Morley, Benjamin Rice, Tamsin Rosewell (who did two incredible illustrations!) and to Andrea McLean, whose beautiful Blakean Map provides the shimmering centrepiece to our new issue.
John Riordan, Art Director
Soot Tyger by Tamsin Rosewell, Blakean Map by Andrea McLean