Wilson, Eric G.: My Business Is To Create: Blake's Infinite Writing, University of Iowa Press, 2011, ISBN-13: 978-1-58729-9902, 102 pages
(Swans - May 9, 2011) William Blake is difficult to categorize. Was he a poet, an engraver, a painter, a mystic, a transcendentalist? Of course, he was all of these things, and yet utterly elusive to his own, and succeeding, generations.
Eric G. Wilson's My Business Is To Create: Blake's Infinite Writing is not so much a biography as it is a treatise on creative writing using the poet as a guide to its mysteries. The second part of the book's title is in many ways the more pertinent. In divining the mysteries of literary creation, Wilson has defined the process that makes writing the remarkable and mysterious thing it very often is. He rightly observes that "there's no such thing as writing that is not revision..." Almost any other writer would say the same, but what makes the credo official is Hemingway's proclamation: "First drafts are shit."
I don't mean to suggest that Wilson has simply produced a primer on creative writing. It goes very much deeper than that. He analyzes the stages through which our psyche must pass in order to produce meaningful work and illustrates how for Blake the role played by divine inspiration was a source in which he deeply believed.
Here is Blake on his poem Milton:
I have written this poem from immediate Dictation, twelve or sometimes twenty or thirty lines at a time, without Premeditation and even against my will; the time it has taken in writing was then rendered Non Existent and an immense Poem Exists which seems to be the Labor of a long life, all produced without Labor or study.
Delving into the mystery of literary creation is what makes Wilson's book fascinating and instructive. In Blake he has an artist who, like Wilson himself, contended there was some metaphysical force at work, which produced works that were riveting and unique. The only "influence" that concerned Blake was that which did not come from primers and models but from that rich and lofty preserve which was unique to the poet himself. He communed with God and took Heaven and Hell as tangible stations along the route of life.
Blake's contemporaries were often flummoxed by his poetry and engravings. He always marched to his own drummer. Two centuries after his death he was being lionized by artists such as Swinburne, Yeats, Dylan Thomas, Aldous Huxley, Charles Olson, Robert Creely, Alan Ginsberg, Salmon Rusdhie, Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith -- the list keeps growing.
In Jerusalem: The Emanation of the Giant Albion Blake's alter ego proclaims: "I must create a system or be enslaved by another Man's. I will not reason and compare: my business is to create."
In the hands of Eric G. Wilson, the right poet has found the right author to explain the inexplicable.
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