The Black Cab

Poetry Salzburg, 2017

**Selected for New Writing North’s Read Regional 2019**

“John Challis’ imaginative dashcam crisscrosses the A-Z, shuttling between the haunts of Hansard and the vast penumbra of the capital’s lay-by-lands. These poems are richly inventive, assured and charged with the mysteries and excitement of the initiate. Their knowledge will work its way into your hippocampus.” – Paul Farley

“The poems in The Black Cab show John Challis’s increasingly confident handling of a rich seam of material in which several subjects combine, including family his-tory, work, class, and the larger social and political history by which they are all shaped and which they in turn illuminate. Challis is able to explore this terrain in ways at once lyric and dramatic, with a rich human sympathy and curiosity, and with a powerful sense of the unceasing competition between memory and mortality. His world is at once material and in a sense metaphysical: beneath its streets the underworld stands open. It’s an exciting debut.” – Sean O’Brien

“Fittingly, The Black Cab opens with an epigraph from Dante’s Inferno, at the moment of the poet’s encounter with the ferryman, Charon. With this as our trail-head marker, Challis becomes our Virgil, guiding us from his father’s black cab through the urban dystopia of our moment. The journey is well worth the fare, as we are in the hands of a young poet whose mastery of his art is already apparent, just as much as Seamus Heaney’s was when he began. Challis is gifted with an abundant capacity for meditative attention, a command of strenuous diction, an unerring ear for the deep music of place and labor. Read for cotchel, dog’s muck and cindery slag, for the slack sail of the sickbed sheet and the spade striking a seventeenth-century plague victim’s skull. You will not soon for-get these poems, nor soon encounter a début collection as impressive as this.” – Carolyn Forche

” there’s a snappy directness to Challis’ writing; a lack of circumvention that shuns excess sentimentality and unnecessary detail (“My age is unimportant.”). The style points to a precision of thought whose destination is always on the horizon. […] Challis is cautious about creating dead-end alleyways when it comes to interpretation, even in the poems that do park themselves firmly inside the taxi theme. Like the “London’s maps in more than three dimensions” in ‘The Knowledge’, there are several dimensions to be discovered, and most readily is the social commentary. The poems are highly attuned to class disparity, winding down the windows on fast-food wastelands one minute, then ferrying the decision-makers from Canary Wharf to Porticullus House the next. The pleasure of navigating this pamphlet is found precisely here; the all-encompassing freedom of movement that flits us from one person’s life experience to another.”  Jade Cuttle, Magma Poetry (September 2018).

“In all of Challis’s poems his interest in making the words work is evident: the metaphors and similes, the careful use of formal structure in many poems, and the sheer pleasure of bundling sounds up to give impact. […] they have a dark, laconic power when read slowly and carefully, looming into the silence, giving pause for thought. They worked in my accent and I suspect they would in any. Which I mention, particularly, as what underpins this very good first pamphlet collection is the relationship between the father and the son, their accent (in the broadest sense) and manners.”  Jonathan Davidson, “Whispering Aloud”, Under the Radar, 21 (Summer 2018): 77-78.

“The collection has the three dimensions of a nice, neat, narrow focus – London, black cabs, the poet’s own immediate heritage; then he, himself, growing up instead to work ‘in the light of a desk lamp’ (‘Blood’) – but it also probes deeper into the foundations of what shapes us, including before our lifetimes. In so doing, it maps out a whole recent-history of England, as poem after poem chronicles and celebrates, for instance, ‘the country’s near forgotten maze of beta roads’. […] Above all, I think I found this an affectionate collection – one born out of a passionate preoccupation with all that surrounds and passes him.” – Charlotte Gann, Sphinx Reviews

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