Launch reading by Penelope Shuttle, A.B. Jackson and John Challis
This wonderful joint launch reading by Penelope Shuttle, A.B. Jackson and John Challis celebrating the publication of their new poetry collections was live streamed on 22 June 2021. It is now available on YouTube - see video below.
The event was hosted by editor Neil Astley from his home in Northumberland. Penelope joined from her home in Falmouth, John from Whitley Bay, and Scottish poet A B Jackson from his home in Leeds. Their collections are all published on 24 June 2021 by Bloodaxe Books - all three are 'making something new out of things that have been lost', as Penelope put it.
John Challis read first in each set, followed by Penelope, then A B Jackson. The readings were followed by discussion and Q&A with the online audience. All three books explore the past in one form or another - it was an evening of 'archaeology by verse', according to one audience member. We travelled under the sea to the submerged land of Lyonesse with Penelope Shuttle, over the ocean with A B Jackson's The Voyage of St Brendan, and underground in London with John Challis in his debut The Resurrectionists.
The submerged land of Lyonesse was once part of Cornwall, according to myth and the oral tradition, standing for a lost paradise in Arthurian legend, but now an emblem of human frailty in the face of climate change. And there was indeed a Bronze Age inundation event which swept the entire west of Cornwall under the sea, with only the Isles of Scilly and St Michael’s Mount left as remnants above sea-level. Lyonesse was also Thomas Hardy’s name for Cornwall where Penelope Shuttle has lived all her adult life, always fascinated by the stories and symbolic presence of Lyonesse. After seeing the Isles of Scilly from a small plane at a low altitude – flying over the Wolf Lighthouse – and then visiting the recent Sunken Cities exhibition at the British Museum, imagination and memory played their part in joining the Lyonesse dots together for her, prompting what she calls ‘a spontaneous inundation of approaches to the theme, images, soundings of Lyonesse’.
The second part of this book – New Lamps for Old – is a collection of poems she needed to write in coming up for air from the watery depths of Lyonesse, to find ways to begin again, to find meaning in life after bereavement. The ‘old lamps’ of a former life have been extinguished, leaving darkness. Her challenge was to find ‘new lamps’ to illuminate and give meaning to life. Lyonesse is a fluid magical world. The poems of New Lamps for Old are concerned with earth, air and fire. Both collections share allegiance with the fifth element, the spirit.
Penelope Shuttle has lived in Cornwall since 1970, and is the widow of the poet Peter Redgrove. Her retrospective, Unsent: New & Selected Poems 1980-2012, drew on ten collections published over three decades. This was followed by Will you walk a little faster? (2017). She has also published five novels, and is co-author with Peter Redgrove of two prose works, The Wise Wound and Alchemy for Women. She lives in Falmouth.
In The Voyage of St Brendan, A.B. Jackson tells the tale of the legendary seafaring Irish abbot. After burning a book of fantastical stories, Brendan is compelled to sail the ocean with a crew of six monks in a leather-skinned currach; his task, to prove the existence of wonders in the world and create a new book of marvels. Discoveries include Jasconius the island-whale, a troop of Arctic ghosts, a hellmouth of tortured souls, a rock-bound Judas, and the magical castle of the boar-headed Walserands.
Although the roots of this legend lie in early Irish tales and the Latin Voyage of Brendan the Abbot of the ninth century, Jackson has taken the 14th-century Middle Dutch version of Brendan’s voyage as the template for this engaging, witty and spirited interpretation, notable for its humour, inventiveness and appeal to a wide readership. The book is beautifully illustrated with a series of black and white linocuts by the American artist Kathleen Neeley.
A.B. Jackson was born in Glasgow in 1965. His first book, Fire Stations (Anvil), won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection in 2003. His second collection, The Wilderness Party (Bloodaxe Books, 2015), was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. The Voyage of St Brendan is his third collection. He currently lives in Leeds.
A poem and illustration from The Voyage of St Brendan is featured in Books Ireland Magazine here.
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.
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.’ – Sean O’Brien
John Challis was born in London in 1984. He won a Northern Writers’ Award in 2012. He was a poet-in-residence with the Northern Poetry Library in 2015 and was chosen as one of the Poetry Trust’s Aldeburgh Eight. His pamphlet, The Black Cab (Poetry Salzburg, 2017), was a 2019 New Writing North Read Regional title. He works at Newcastle University as a Research Associate, and lives in Whitley Bay.
Many thanks to Pete Hebden and NCLA for technical support.
[15 May 2021]