Poem of the Week: Thames by John Challis | Poetry




After a day spent guarding the tugs and barges for garbage disposal,
racing sailboats, showboats and commuter mowers afloat,
the Thames turns inward to find a space
to stretch out in, in a space no bigger than him,
and digs in mud and clay
where every London crosses, to put its nose under the grave,
then flip the past like a coin to send it afloat
his drowned goods: Anglo-Saxon ornaments,
unexploded payloads, diced bones and oyster shells,
wedding rings and license plates, and all those
you might have been if your time had started early:
gravediggers, mound boys, mole men and cockle pickers,
farmers and gong merchants, resurrectionists
and suicides; the taken, the lost, the given –
then settles down to dream again of all its nascent streams,
the estuaries and tributaries that brought it here,
among the rusty hulls of the years, where there is no space
breathe or fall asleep.

The title of The Resurrectionists by John Challis alludes to the ancient profession of body theft, and the collection deals with all kinds of exhumation and revitalization. In the title poem, the speaker shows us a corpse, stolen for an experimental resurrection, “jerking off on the table / at the dawn of electricity” and states: / the page my wheelbarrow and my load the word. The double meaning of “tumulus” is salient: it is not simply a burial place, but a mobile market stall, one of the many images that bring a lost or working London to life. to fade away.

The young wheelbarrow poet delivers a whole river and a great rumble of activity in this week’s poem. The Thames Challis area says he had roughly in mind “the stretch from Docklands / Canary Wharf to London Bridge – the main site of London’s industrial past”. On the map, the Thames loops south and then north, perhaps narrowing slightly as if, as the poem says, it “turns inward to find space / to expand, in a space no larger than her ”.

Thames the River is something of a resurrectionist, wanting to “put his nose under the grave” – ​​the grave filled with “every London”, chic and poor, old and modern. The clever list-making takes the poem forward, jostling and jostling each other with assorted stuff, from the various ships denoting classes in the front lines to the richly jarring plethora of items that emerge as the river “flips the past as it goes.” a coin”. As for “all those / you might have been if your time had started early”, the call is brightened up by the names of some less than familiar professions – for example, the Night Gatherers known as Men, ” a term associated not only with fictional characters but with actual tunnel-building engineers.

There is a wave of life movement as well as a forward roll in the poem’s single long sentence, gathering turmoil as the list of exhumed becomes less specific, perhaps more elegiac – “the resurrectionists / and suicides; the taken, the lost, the given ”. Yet the Thames is looking for a place to rest. But no sooner has he landed to dream of his own past than the jumble surrounds him again; it is caught “among the rusty hulls of years, where there is no space / to breathe or settle down to sleep”. The personification of the river subconsciously works well because the whole rhythm and diction of the poem expresses its physicality, and, beyond the blacksmith’s delight, there is a tender sympathy for the plight of the river.


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