Review: Through the Billboard Promised Land Without Ever Stopping

Through the Billboard Promised Land Without Ever Stopping
Derek Jarman, 120 pgs, House Sparrow Press,, £9.99

Prompted by Derek Jarman’s 1964 journey through America, this shimmering novella tracks the surreal travels of a young blind King and his valet, John. The rediscovered luminous tale is a valuable addition to Jarman’s rich and varied body of work, serving as a cornerstone to its foundation.

Filmmaker, artist, activist, gardener and significant alternative cultural figure of 20th century Britain, Derek Jarman (b. 1942) initially penned Through the Billboard Promised Land Without Ever Stopping in 1971. It was not until recently that House Sparrow Press published it for the first time. Steeped in notes of Americana, the brief novella is a poetic fairy tale of a fantastical road trip across a trippy landscape. It is an endearing hybrid of William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch (1959) and The Wizard of Oz (1939), but haunted by the ecological issues that were arising at the time Jarman was writing.

Between the book’s enchanting iridescent covers, Jarman’s story is contextualized by four lovingly written accompanying contributions: a foreword, a memoir, an afterword and a final note. Each supplementary text provides insight into the artist’s life and work. Scattered throughout are pictures of original handwritten drafts from Jarman’s archive. Additionally, there is a QR code that connects the reader to an intensely intimate audio recording of Derek Jarman reading the story out loud. In his afterward, Jarman scholar Declan Wiffen vividly imagines the artist at home on the Dungeness shore in Prospect Cottage, reading the story into a cassette recorder. The text printed within the book’s pages has been transcribed from this recording.

In Through the Billboard, Derek Jarman establishes the themes and aesthetics he consistently composted, recycled, reused and revisited throughout his creative career. This rediscovered gift is an excellent entry point to his entire body of work.


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