John Challis reviews, interviews & poem features

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 in June 2021. It was launched with a live-streamed joint event hosted by Bloodaxe Books on 22 June (see video below). 



The Daily Telegraph, Poem of the Week, Saturday 15 April 2023

A new poem by John Challis, ‘Featherweight’, was featured as Tristram Fane Saunders’ Poem of the Week in The Telegraph on 15 April.  John’s debut collection The Resurrectionists, published by Bloodaxe in June 2021, was mentioned.

‘Challis often writes about his family – much of his acclaimed first collection, The Resurrectionists (2021), involved his father, a London cabbie – and writing about close relatives can involve some tactful manoeuvring. “I’ve always told them that it’s not really about them,” he says. “It’s an imaginative amalgamation of them, my thoughts about them, and myself. Poems are always an extension of ourselves, even if it’s about someone else.”’- Tristram Fane Saunders, The Telegraph (Poem of the Week)

In print and available online via The Telegraph’s Culture newsletter of 20 April 2023 - read here.

The Verb: After Dark Festival: The Chance to Change, BBC Radio 3, Friday 25 March 2022, 10pm

John Challis was a guest on this special edition of The Verb recorded in front of an audience at the After Dark Festival at Sage Gateshead.  The recording took place on 8 March in the Northern Rock Foundation Hall, and was broadcast on  The Verb on 25 March.

John was reading from his debut collection The Resurrectionists.  The book is mostly set in London, but John has been based in North-East England for over ten years. He read and introduced his poems ‘Naming the Light’, ‘Thames’, ‘Single Litre Engine’, ‘Night Change, ‘Prayer at the Edge of the West’ and ‘The Knowledge’.  Host Ian McMillan introduced John by saying, ‘John Challis writes with beauty and passion of the so-called every day… he gives us all majesty and a kind of shimmering quality…’

‘The Equinox is a time of change, and at a special recording for Radio 3's After Dark Festival, The Verb's master of metamorphosis Ian McMillan presents a plethora of poets from Sage Gateshead. Our contribution to this major new live music festival, it's a feast of contemporary, classical and experimental music too and you can find out more searching "After Dark Festival" in BBC Sounds.  We'll have live performances from Mike Garry bringing a flavour of Manchester to the North East and we'll also be joined by local lad Rowan McCabe - who described his "door-to-door" poetry service as "like the Avon lady but with rhymes." And we'll have a performance from the ever eclectic Kate Fox as well as John Challis and Tahmina Ali.’

John Challis features from: 27:50.  Listen here.



An interview with John Challis is on Shuddhashar Magazine here, accompanied by some poems from The Resurrectionists.



'Thames' from The Resurrectionists is discussed by Carol Rumens in her online Poem of the Week column in The Guardian of 20 September 2021.  Read in full here.

'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.


Details of John Challis's forthcoming readings are on Bloodaxe's events page here. A video of his joint launch reading is below.


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]

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