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Mental Fight Club’s Blake Night at the Hop Cellars

Marion Marples

Southwark-based Mental Fight Club this week held a special Blake Night event at the Hop Cellars to commemorate the 248th anniversary of the birth of visionary artist and poet William Blake.

Mental Fight Club takes its name from Ben Okri's epic poem 'Mental Fight'. That term is itself taken from William Blakes' poem 'Jerusalem' – 'I will not cease from Mental fight' . A performance of the Okri poem earlier this year marked the launch of the club which is a sort of Blake fan club as well as a meeting place for poets and musicians interested in developing the creative tensions between Blake, Okri, local historical roots, artists, photographers and anyone inspired by those links.

The Okri poem is in eight sections and so far the first part 'Time to be real' has come to new life as an audiovisual presentation. Now seven other groups are working on the remaining sections, creating dance, visual installations and films: these should be completed in the next year or so.

In the meantime, to celebrate Blake's 248th birthday on 28 November and the ongoing 'Mental Fight' of creative people, Sarah Wheeler orchestrated a poetic happening in Southwark Street's Hop Cellars. Using Blake's paintings and poems 'Songs of Innocence' and 'Songs of Experience' and music from such diverse sources as Nick Cave and Ralph Vaughan Williams the performance took us on a journey from the beginning of time to 'eternity's sunrise' . The paradoxical and quirky challenge Blake made to England's establishment was highlighted by an introduction to a topical painting, previously unknown to me, of Nelson, on show in Tate Britain, showing a naked Nelson stripped of power and rank and surrounded by much more ambiguous symbols. Other images came from Alice in Wonderland and Michael Rosen's Sad Book.

These exiting projects bring together disparate people, places and media. Another shared passion is for St George – who has a local presence in both churches and dragons. There will be a lecture by feminist medieval historian Dr Samantha Riches at Guy's Chapel on St George's Day, 23 April 2006 and other activities including a Dragon Hunt in Borough High Street. Highly recommended.

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