John Challis reviews, interviews & poem features
'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's first full-length collection The Resurrectionists was published by Bloodaxe Books on 24 June 2021. It was launched with a live-streamed joint event hosted by Bloodaxe Books on 22 June (see video below).
'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
Read two poems from the collection on Wild Court here.
The Resurrectionists was given an early review in The Guardian of 5 June 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
A slightly longer version of Ben Wilkinson's review is online here.
Michael Glover reviewed The Resurrectionists in his speed reading column in The Tablet of 14 August 2021.
‘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
Read here (register to read for free).
An in-depth review by Stephen Payne was featured online in The Friday Poem of 24 September 2021.
‘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
Read in full here.
LAUNCH READING WITH JOHN CHALLIS, A B JACKSON AND PENELOPE SHUTTLE
Tuesday 22 June 2021, 7pm BST, Joint live-streamed launch event
This 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. The audience was taken on a journey 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 both underground and overground in London with John Challis in his debut The Resurrectionists.
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 - 'archaeology by verse', according to one audience member.
[20 September 2021]