In their chapter entitled ‘Metropolitan Blake,’ Shirley Dent and Jason Whittaker chart the ways in which Blake-influenced writers have taken up the ‘golden string’ of Blake’s urban imagery. Indeed, Blake’s posthumous reputation as a poet-artist of and in London’s streets has only continued to gain force—not least in those very streets where Blake himself lived, worked, and walked. Yet scholars have tended to overlook the wider and still-evolving networks of London-based artists and writers working in a ‘Blakean’ or Blake-influenced vein.
I draw attention to the abundance, in London, of independent publishing ventures with Blakean redolences up to the present day. The activities of London-based small presses can help to illuminate at least two key aspects of Blake’s reception. Firstly, the small presses, often rooted in ‘countercultural’ ideas and practices, bespeak and foster a certain reputation, increasingly accrued to Blake, of experimental and autonomous artisanship operating outside or in opposition to the ‘dominant’ means of production. Secondly, I emphasise both the importance of place in the small presses’ connections to Blake and to Blake’s London, and the strongly topographical bent of many of their Blakean publications. I posit that these ventures participate in the ongoing project of (re)imagining an ever-emergent urban ‘text,’ which Blake’s work itself sets in motion.
Many London-Blakean practitioners originate from or are partly based outside of London itself, hailing from (for instance) Liverpool, New Zealand, Dublin, and the US, suggesting a potentially wider geographical reach for ‘local Blake.’ However, their Blakean work is overwhelmingly and intimately centred on London in site-specific detail, and it is in part by virtue of this curious localism that the networks of London Blakeans can be seen as representing a distinctive formation within Blake’s legacy.
Caroline Anjali Ritchie is an AHRC-funded PhD Candidate at Tate Britain and the University of York. She holds a BA in Classics and English from the University of Oxford and an MA in Art History, Curatorship, and Renaissance Culture from the Warburg Institute. Her research relates Blake’s work to the history and theory of mapping.