A version of this may appear in an upcoming issue of Redactions: Poetry & Poetics.
Why do we need another book about William Blake? I have three main reasons. One, I’d say we need another book because Blake seems to have been forgotten or is only remembered as just another one of those old poets in an anthology. Two, we need to be reminded of Blake’s genius. We need to be reminded of Imagination. We need to be reminded of Energy and Original Creation. Three, because Eric G. Wilson’s 85-page book, My Business is to Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing (University of Iowa Press, 2011), is inspired and filled with energy. While reading it, you will want to return to Blake, and, more importantly for the writers out there, you will be revitalized.
My Business is to Create begins with a brief biography of Blake. This is followed by the story of Allen Ginsberg’s first vision of Blake and a list of other writers, artists, musicians, filmmakers, and graphic artists who were inspired and influenced by Blake. And then the book’s first of many creative epiphanies:
Originality equals genius; imitation is mediocrity (p 8).
That’s good insight and good advice, but only if you know what creativity means, if it still means anything at all after its overuse. Throughout this book, Wilson examines what creativity is, and he uses Blake as the exemplar of creativity. First, he takes a closer look at “inspiration, one of Blake’s primary terms for creativity” (p 9). Inspiration, to Blake, is to view something as you see it and then holding to that vision, especially when it goes against the consensus view or generalized views, which Blake says “are the plea of the scoundrel, hypocrite, and flatterer” (p 14). From this inspiration, one can create. The inspiration is the “Divine Vision.” Even nature can’t challenge one’s own imagination, for:
imagination apprehends and depicts the world’s illimitable fecundity. It is a way of knowing as well as a mode of expression (p 14).
Wilson is inspired. He has energy. An energy that penetrates into the reader. I feel it. I feel almost like I did shortly after my first encounters with Blake – inspired, wide-eyed, and bursting with new poems.
After you find your personal view, Wilson continues, you are ready to create relationships with the world and nature. And these relationships are not objective. They are no longer relationships with the other. They are personal and meaningful. Using Martin Buber’s I and Thou, Wilson makes this Blakean idea of relationships clear to us. That is, once you have made this I-and-Thou relationship, you can:
[g]aze at life as though you were always blessing it, consecrating it, humbly, as holy, and then your biases will be relaxed and your curiosity will be aroused (p 22).
This and some practical examples that Wilson lists are ways to go about being creative and, hopefully, to experience “pure sensation unencumbered by meaning” (p 24), as Marius von Senden says. To widen this view, to move beyond, Wilson says that you should embrace polarities:
Saying yes and no to the same thing, hovering between authorization and invalidation, I undergo the joy of expansion (p 28).
Wilson also gives us an overview of Blake as the inventor of: free verse; the idea that form is never more than an extension of content; the prose poem; and, though Wilson doesn’t say it, I will, the inventor of cubism – “in which single events are presented from numerous simultaneous perspectives” (p 39).
Wilson also devotes a chapter to revising. He explores why we do it, how it works, and, of course, how Blake revised:
To be freed from the notion that first drafts even exist, to understand that you’re already revising the minute you put word to page: this makes it easier to modify those initial sentences. There’s nothing special about them. They’re yesterday’s news (p 44).
[R]ealize that revising is creating, is life, and therefore the more beautiful our revisions, the more vital our lives, and, surprisingly, the more innocent (p 45).
I love that sentence, especially after Wilson points out that for Blake innocence “is knowledge” (p 46). Or, more precisely, to quote Blake: “Unorganized Innocence, An Impossibility / Innocence dwells with Wisdom but never with Ignorance” (p 46).
As I said before, Wilson’s My Business is to Write is filled with energy. Wilson is possessed like Blake, and, like Blake, this book is filled with many quotable lines, as I’ve shown above, and some of which I’ll list here:
This is a writing that is infinite, an eternal composition, draft after draft after draft, an editorial mysticism whose goal is not the “final,” but the “farther” (p 29).
The more deeply you descend into your specific haunts, the more universal you become (p 41).
[On the Swendenborgians]: [T]he hormones get you to heaven, and paradise is within the genitalia (p 55).
Let you carnality pursue the poem (p 56).
Industry [the process of writing or creating] is all there is. To lose yourself in it, to become it, its boundless but rugged promises, its oceans of tone and form, rimed now with rough ice, and then freshened by the warm trades: this is grace (p 69).
Not only do I think this is a good book worth returning to, it will be a good book for writers or any creative person (as I’ve already mentioned on Facebook and Twitter). I also think it can be a terrific book for creative writing classes. In addition, midway through Wilson’s My Business is to Create: Blake’s Infinite Writing, I had the belief that Blake was actually writing the book, and if he wasn’t, then Blake had possessed Wilson during the writing. In the end, Blake would approve of this book and I encourage it.
On an aside, I still haven’t figured out where to put this book in my library. Should it go with my Blake books and literary criticisms of Blake or with my books on and about writing? Ah, such a fun dilemma to have.
One last aside, a personal note: Wilson is obviously a writer, and he clearly writes about situations that writers encounter. Often he writes so well about situations I have been in, I wonder if he was there when it was happening to me. I love that he somehow knows me. Perhaps you will feel the same. Consider this paragraph:
So often we are troubled by past and future, and thus alienated from the present moment. I sit at my computer on a Wednesday morning trying to write. But my attention keeps straying to what has happened earlier in my life, maybe two years ago, perhaps ten minutes, those events toward which I nostalgically long or from which I regretfully recoil. Also I anticipate an appointment to which I’ve been looking forward or dread an upcoming responsibility. Dissipated by these feelings, I hover in a ghostly limbo, composed of apparitions of a past that is no more and haunts of future not yet here. While drafting among these abstractions, I’m not really living. I’m overly self-conscious, obsessed with my personal history, my success, my failures. I can’t get out of myself, connect to something beyond, something “not me.” I’ve imprisoned myself in a ratio of my own making, egotism’s same dull round: wherever I look, there I am. Distant from this life – right here, right now, this instant – and perversely enamored of monotony, of death, I can’t write anything worth keeping. I don’t know what to do. I just know I’ve got to kill time, somehow (p 70-1).
As you can tell, I can keep writing about this book as it has impacted me. I want to go farther.
Now, because Ginsberg heard the voice of Blake in a vision and the voice sang “Ah, Sun-flower,” here are The Fugs singing “Ah, Sun-flower”.