London after Blake

View on Vimeo.

My latest videohaiku is an homage to William Blake. The major Blake exhibition currently at Tate Britain features only indirectly, via a billboard above the escalators in Waterloo Station. Just to the southwest of that station, under the multiple railroad tracks, is another, permanent exhibition that Rachel and I took in on Sunday, before walking over to the Tate: the London School of Mosaic’s project Blake’s Lambeth (2005-2015):

Blake’s Lambeth is a collection of 70 mosaics installed in the tunnels alongside Archbishops Park, close to Waterloo Station. The project was part of a 10 year collaboration of Southbank Mosaics (our former company) with Future’s Theatre and Southbank Sinfonia supported by Heritage Lottery.

William Blake lived for ten of his most productive years in North Lambeth at 13 Hercules Buildings. The old house has been knocked down, but there is a plaque where it once stood on Hercules Road. This mosaic project pays homage to his genius and some of his greatest work. Our artists worked with 300 volunteers over a period of 7 years to research, design, plan, create and install 70 mosaics based on the words and paintings of William Blake into the railway tunnels of Waterloo Station, turning them from dark unwelcoming places into street galleries bright with opulent and durable works of art.

There’s also an extensive photo gallery at the blog Spitalfields Life, which is how I found out about the installation, having Googled “William Blake Lambeth”, hoping for an historical marker or something.

I messed around with the text of the haiku quite a lot while working on the video, and it wasn’t until I decided to take it in a Blakean, satirical direction that it felt right. So it’s “after Blake” in two senses. (Here’s the text of his poem “London” if you need a refresher.) Each of the three lines is divided in two, using a similar font to the one in the Tate poster.

Here’s the (longer and much more slickly produced) official video for the project:

Watch on YouTube.

Travel Anxiety

Page 19 from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté
This entry is part 19 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté


Page 19 from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté
Page 19 from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté

If travel were just
the open road, I might
take to it. Not this
labored labyrinth,
this intestinal clench
of visas tickets security screenings long lines wrong seats bad restrooms too much luggage no-fly lists takeoff turbulence recirculated air cramped legroom boredom soreness limbo purgatory sleepless wondering will they let us in turn us back demand proof of our identity confiscate our umbilical cords make us wait wait wait wait,
wherever we are bound.

Insomniac’s Revenge

Page 18 from Max Ernst's Une Semaine de Bonté
This entry is part 18 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté


Page 18 from Max Ernst's Une Semaine de Bonté

Sleep will elude me no longer with her silver tongue. I have bought her silence from a horned god: half goat, half lion with a banker’s dreamless fingers. His purse yawns open to take its paper medicine while she, my darling captive, stares past me, like no hollow-eyed face in the mirror I’ve ever seen. Perhaps there’s someone behind me, some rider, some mare. I don’t know. She’s not talking. And the room’s beginning to tilt and turn dark.

Floating World (Ukiyo)

Page 17 from Max Ernst's Une Semaine de Bonté
This entry is part 17 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté


Page 17 from Max Ernst's <em>Une Semaine de Bonté</em>

In the demimonde they say rules
don’t apply; even the law of gravity
has been suspended. You can laugh

from the bottom bounce of a check.
You can float. Women are more
than ornamental: their arts are art.

A sailor spots his ship’s figurehead
on her way to a meeting of the board.
The glass ceiling hasn’t been shattered

but turned into a floor: like sea ice,
blue, translucent, prone to cracks
and groans. It will hold your weight

until spring, when the old order returns
with its dark fins and foreclosures,
its strip poker, its house that always wins.

Nature conspires with nurture again
and an infant, fresh from its watery Eden,
screams like a gull for your breast.


This entry is part 16 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté


Page 16 from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté

I died with the word I on my lips.
It only took a moment,
a slight pause as if for a line-
break or a comma, a panicked thought
or the time required for an 8-ball
to cross the baize. I died,
and the cities I harbor gave way
to squalid refugee camps
where the moon went
through a new phase
of never getting out of bed.
They fed it on thin broth
that tasted like a landlocked sea.
And there I floated like Moses
in my open casket waiting to be
adopted by Mother Earth—
to be somehow seen again, if only
by the mute-belled lilies of the valley
and their brawny, tawny bee.

Fallen Woman

This entry is part 15 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté


Page 15 from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté

Fallen how? As bruised fruit, windfall—
an unlooked-for fortune? As felled tree
ready to be resourced into board feet?
No. It is we who have fallen into
our own trap, which we can’t keep shut.
She’s more resourceful than a bodhisattva.
Her limbs proliferate, as if
in an arms race with an octopus,
that other escape artist of the deep.
She practices anemochory.
Only the policeman’s black mustache
is better at improvising flight.

The Song of the Womb

This entry is part 14 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté


Page 14 from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté

The song of the womb begins
on a minor key among the bivalves
and sea cucumbers, whose tunes
are all palindromes and serve
a purely decorative purpose.
The song of the womb sounds best
played by a full orchestra, despite
the many adaptations for solo flute.
It’s got rhythm—that probably goes
without saying—and sheet music.
It can be used to communicate
over great distances underwater.
Scientists say the song of the womb
may predate the evolution
of consciousness! It is not, however,
the first choice of the womb itself,
which prefers bossa nova
and the occasional hymn
for the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus.


This entry is part 13 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté


Page 13 from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté

Lion of empire every sun
must remind you of the veldt
the burning eyes of rivals
the bleats of prey but now
when you hear rain that’s
a crowd stampeding to escape
and when you hear thunder
that’s the big guns going off
and when you hear drip
drip drip drip that’s peace.

Love Machine

This entry is part 12 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté


Page 12 from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté

I wear your love like an edible medallion
into the bucolic valley of the shadow
among drowsy lambs, Kalashnikovs

and opium poppies. All my hos
are calling hosannas because there are
no more bees. Photos of the missing

haunt the backs of milk cartons.
Whose slaves are they now?
Will their bodies ever be found?

I generate my own buzz, a self-
pollinating brand ambassador
hustling fleurs du mal.

Do you smell it, too:
the marketing opportunity for bee-
sized drones? I halve and pit

a free-stone peach and peer at that
footprint of a brain surrounded
by sweetness. I bite in.

Black site

This entry is part 11 of 19 in the series Une Semaine de Bonté


Page 11 from Max Ernst’s Une Semaine de Bonté

They say not to pull
the wings off angels
as a lesson to the rest
of the colony. They say
torture only leads
to bad information,
which must be why Satan
has always seemed so
terribly misguided.
But it’s a power trip,
isn’t it, and without
power, no light.
This little light of mine,
I’m gonna let it smoke
and smolder like the burnt
offering that it is,
adding emissions
to the atmosphere.
The earth has been
a bad mother—
so many tedious warnings
about putting our eyes out
or living beyond our means
and I’m tired
of being grounded.
Elon Musk appeared
to me in a dream
and he was looking crafty—
spacecrafty. Maybe
he will hire me when
The Boring Company
merges with SpaceX
and it’s time to start
excavating fresh hells
up on the moon.