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John Challis

The Resurrectionists

John Challis

Publication Date : 24 Jun 2021

ISBN: 9781780375519

Pages: 65
Size :216 x 138mm
Rights: World

The living and the dead are working side by side in John Challis’s dramatic debut collection, The Resurrectionists. Whether in London’s veg and meat markets, far below the Dartford Crossing, or on the edge of the Western world, these poems journey into a buried and sometimes violent landscape to locate the traces of ourselves that remain. Amidst the political disquiet rising from the groundwater, or the unearthing of the class divide at the gravesides of plague victims, the veil between the living and the dead is at its thinnest when a child is born, and something close to hope for the future is resurrected.

‘Many of the poems in The Resurrectionists by John Challis are situated in the City of London, the West End and East London/Essex borderlands – my own home turf, until recently. These poems are rooted in relationships with family often departed, with old trades and night trading. The cover is brilliant, a photo of men at work in Smithfield’s market. Many poems offer us what this image does: a direct gaze, wit, labour, ghosts and dead meat. The real narrative of a city is not in its architecture, transport, incarcerations or commerce (although all those are here too) but in the flesh and blood – the workers. These are incredibly well-tailored poems, with humanity that acknowledges men’s fears and their cousin vulnerabilities. – Jane Wilkinson, Poetry News (Best poetry books of the year 2021)

'In his debut collection, The Resurrectionists, John Challis reminds us how both personal and collective histories remain a part of our present.... this is poetry as archaeology, though with a lyric alchemy that can conjure “a heap / of gangrenous bodies” at a plague-pit excavation in modern London. Challis commemorates the lives of working London people – butchers in Smithfield market, a cabbie father, “barrow boys and cockle pickers” – in poems that reflect on class politics while generally avoiding nostalgia.... The Resurrectionists is alive to both the individual moment and the long perspective.' - Ben Wilkinson, The Guardian, best recent poetry

‘There is a tremendously punchy hiss and splutter to The Resurrectionists, John Challis’ first book. It is something to do with strikingly unfashionable subject matter elbowing its way in from the margins, so unlike the usual accompaniment to poetry’s verbal politesse: the stench of meat in Smithfield Market; a magnificent tribute to the brutal eyesore of a coal-fired power station; a London cabbie’s Knowledge praised as a species of wisdom. A young talent to keep a watchful eye on.’ – Michael Glover, The Tablet

'John Challis’ first full length collection The Resurrectionists occupies the liminal space between the living and the dead. The industrial past and its violent landscapes are not finished with  us, but instead spring forth into the present moment where “time alone can be itself, bait and cast a line”.  The  Resurrectionists explores how the past comes closest when the future is at  hand: “the dead leaned in... as though to kiss our baby’s head.” - Poetry Book Society Bulletin, Summer 2021

The Resurrectionists is the outstanding first full collection by the North East-based poet John Challis. These are engrossing and vivid poems that capture often disquieting little-told stories of London, full of narrative drive and a variety of voices that feel real and lived.’ - Will Mackie, New Writing North (New Poetry from the North, Summer 2021)

'The title of John Challis’s The Resurrectionists alludes to the ancient profession of body-snatching, and the collection is concerned with all kinds of disinterment and revitalisation. In the title poem, the speaker shows us a corpse, filched for experimental resurrection, “jerking on the table / at the dawn of electricity” and asserts: “I too feel the urge to make something / out of nothing and profit from this work: / the page my barrow and my charge the word.” The double meaning of “barrow” is salient: it’s not merely a burial place but a mobile market stall, one of the many images that bring a lost or fading working-class London memorably to life.' - Carol Rumens, Poem of the Week, The Guardian

‘A resurrectionist was a body snatcher, with a particular market for his swag, namely anatomical education and research. Likewise, Challis’s poetic purpose is to unearth past lives, and study their components....There is nothing glib here, and the absence of irony, even when being critical of contemporary environments, generates a sincerity that is in keeping with the poet’s misgivings about modernity, and with his warmth towards the city and its workers.’ – Stephen Payne, The Friday Poem

‘The Resurrectionists is a fabulous poetry anthology, perfect for those studying English literature. Lyricism is used throughout to depict the history of London’s past, which raises questions about why we live the way we do today… I have never read such a thought-provoking book of poems before. It embraces both the political and metaphysical, and for anyone studying history and what has happened to make us who we are today, then this is the book for them. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Perfect for the older reader.’ – Emma Suffield, The School Librarian

‘… this is a promising debut, a collection which lingers long after reading and entices the reader back with ease.’ – Andrew Taylor, Orbis, on The Resurrectionists

‘...the second half of The Resurrectionists allows new life to creep in... and there is a glimpse of something spiritual: the astonishingly beautiful unrhymed sonnet, ‘Naming the Light’, the delicate tracery of ‘Night Change’... there is enough here to make clear that John Challis is one of Britain’s most promising young poets.’ – John Greening, Poetry Salzburg Review

‘In John Challis’s superb first collection, the past has not finished with us. It pursues and provokes and questions what we’re about. Entire vanished or vanishing worlds of work – on the East End docks, at Smithfield, in the pre-Murdoch print, at the wheel of a black cab – reveal vivid traffic between the living and the dead. In rich, urgent combinations of the dramatic and the lyric, Challis adds new energy to the poetry of history, in the tradition of Harrison, Smith, Dunn and Wainwright. In its embrace of both the political and the metaphysical, and in its tender regard for ordinary life the book is both timely and necessary.’ – Sean O’Brien

‘These poems throw a great arc of light out of the city’s storeyed past into the present, place, trades, family, vulnerable fatherhood. Here, balanced at the very edge, where “light will fall out of our language”, John Challis shines his words into the workings of the heart and of nature, with all their unpredictable transformations.’ – Imtiaz Dharker

'John Challis writes with beauty and passion of the so-called every day… he gives us all majesty and a kind of shimmering quality…’ – Ian McMillan


John Challis reads from The Resurrectionists at the 2022 Newcastle Poetry Festival

John Challis reads from his 2021 collection The Resurrectionists. He reads: 'The Knowledge'; 'Plague Ground'; 'This is the market'; 'Thames'; 'Driving home from hospital after the hottest day of the year'; 'Night Change'; 'Hansard'; 'Naming the Light' and 'Prayer at the Edge of the West'. Filmed by Peter Hebden. Special thanks to Newcastle Centre for the Literary Arts.

 

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Related News & Publicity

News & Publicity


John Challis reviews, interviews & poem features

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John Challis's debut collection reviewed in The Guardian, The Tablet and elsewhere; Poem of the Week feature in The Guardian. Interview on a live edition of BBC Radio ...

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John Challis Readings

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Launch reading by Penelope Shuttle, A.B. Jackson and John Challis

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Live-streamed launch reading by Penelope Shuttle, A.B. Jackson and John Challis on 22 June 2021 is now on YouTube.

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