A Times Literary Supplement Book of the Year 2021
A Sunday Independent (Ireland) Book of the Year 2021
A Masterclass in transforming the materiality of life into poems that are both funny and profound — Times Literary Supplement
Evans will not give in to easy effects or even a singing line. It is all crosstalk, undertone, interruption, pure hilarity, like someone telling a story, like someone thinking. And somehow out of what feels like raw life comes a register that is often luminous….At page 100 we have been engaged by a rich sensibility, and a poet with an astonishing technical confidence who know how to turn a poem or leave a reader unsure where the emotion is coming from. Feeling in these poems is subtly placed and managed. It is hard to see what more Evans can do with the fifty pages. The answer is Mountainy Men, a bravura piece, filled with incident, tension, verbal excitement…Slowly a poem that seems animated by random thoughts and images, takes on a strange, concentrated power; the lines begin to feel like pure style, the narrative voice holding and wielding the hidden energies which Martina Evans consolidates, and then releases with such energy and confidence and verve. — Colm Tóibín, Poetry Ireland Review
American Mules by Martina Evans is a glorious collection of poems, two books within one, an astonishment of riches. How she melds narrative audacity with sharp insight and juicy lyricism is so memorable. It’s a book that gets into your heart. These poems echo and shimmer. I’ll be looking forward to returning to this wonderful volume at a slower summertime pace. — Joseph O’Connor, Irish Times
Martina Evans’s American Mules, a scintillating poetry collection from a unique, deeply observant, beautifully compassionate consciousness which creates a fully realised world of its own. — Catriona Crowe, Irish Times
‘Martina Evans keeps the reader in close and constant orbit…It gave me immense pleasure to read an Irish poet whose syntax and diction estranged (in the best way) the American English poetry I read all the time, and offered such musical and witty reward.’ Megan Fernandes
Striking powers of social observation… every single adjective attentively exact… Without straining for effect, she mixes pity with horror – and a repeated theme of fallibility. Evans’s great gift, though, is for storytelling combined with a music that says to the reader or listener, these things are connected – here’s how.
Martina Evans is that rarest of rara avis, a poet whose work is at once serious and authentically enjoyable. Evans is working now with more brio and fearlessness than ever before. American Mules is a book of splendours and will surely count among her very best.
Martina Evans’ poems are compressed stories, if not entire novels, in all but their word counts… she is the least abstract, least generalising of poets.
Michael Glover, The Tablet
NOW WE CAN TALK OPENLY ABOUT MEN 2018
Shortlisted for the Irish Times Poetry Now Award, The Pigott Poetry Prize and The Roehampton Poetry Prize.
Book of the Year in the Observer, T.L.S., and the Irish Times.
‘…unputdownable…Reading her is like listening at the keyhole of history.’ Roy Foster, Times Literary Supplement
‘A subtle, challenging writer with a wonderfully destructive approach to the pieties she describes.’ John McAuliffe, The Irish Times
‘A pair of contrasting monologues set in 1920s Ireland are witty and humane to an outstanding degree’ – Kate Kellaway, The Observer.
A virtuosic piece of art; funny, unflinching, disturbing, unforgettable. — Donal Ryan, Irish Independent
I was in a weakness. I couldn’t stand up,
leant back against the wall like a drunkard.
Was that Himself I’d seen on the back
of a Crossley tender on Main Street?
The truck came down the hill & out
of the back appeared – a pair of red eyes.
They pinned me, bored me. It was an outrage.
A small Tan or maybe an Auxie, lounging
in the back against the canvas with a bayonet
pointed at my waist. The head off Himself
in a cracked leather coat with goggles
hanging round his neck. After twelve years.
Could he have clambered out the other
side of Sullivan’s Quay that night in Cork
ran away fast with his bowler under
his arm? We never found the hat although
Eileen Murphy & myself searched high
& low, tearing the damp walls, our hands
bright green from the moss.
‘The admired vernacular brilliance of Martina Evans’s poetry is applied here to her most ambitious work to date, bringing to vivid life one of the most terrible periods of Irish history from the Troubles around 1920 to the Civil War, as witnessed and experienced by two generations of women … No other poet currently writing in Britain and Ireland can rival Evans’s ability to represent the impact of the political on the personal without easy histrionics. This is a remarkable document,a major work. ‘
THE WINDOWS OF GRACELAND: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS
A subtle, challenging writer with a
wonderfully destructive approach
to the pieties she describes
The Irish Times
Read FULL REVIEW HERE.
POETRY BOOK SOCIETY CHOICE SUMMMER 2016
Watch is, by my calculation, Martina Evans’ sixth poetry publication: brief, excellent – and hard-hitting: ‘The night before my wedding / I put my wristwatch through the machine cycle’. Evans’ tales are carefully told, in a recognisable voice, with the nonchalant ease of a novelist…The speaker’s view of her London house is factual but slightly nightmarish: ‘some strange yellow / cauliflowers are growing / inside the kitchen walls’. This may be more familiar to many of us than an Ideal Home. But though her home is ‘warm and small’, the ruthless speaker does not want to meet its former inhabitants ‘with moist green teeth’, ‘like the Irish fairies’ (another cultural legacy sharply reviewed!) She is, however, a perceptive observer of cats: ‘Their pupils fill with black to allow / more light’.
Evans’ poem ‘London’ offers a warm final twist: ‘Feverishly, I return always running / from Ireland’ to ‘the babble on the 76 of 77 languages’. Here is Warsan Shire’s city, sheltering, however inadequately, its migrants and refugees. Here, Evans’ speaker, generous and keen-eyed, waiting for her London bus as ‘in the black night’, sees ‘in a blaze / the lights of home’.
Alison Brackenbury, PN REVIEW
BURNFORT LAS VEGAS, Anvil Press, 2014
SHORTLISTED FOR IRISH TIMES POETRY NOW AWARD 2015
Martina Evans…brazenly humorous…with her dizzyingly wacky
free-verse tale-telling. Burnfort Las Vegas has a range of registers
from the sadly brooding to the raucous.
– Michael Glover, The Tablet
‘A masterwork of practiced ease’ –
Bethany Pope, Wales Arts Review’
PETROL Anvil Press 2012
Click here to watch PETROL on youtube
‘Evans offers the child’s-eye view at its most dislocated, in language at once visceral and poised, drenched in sensory associations. Food, fabric, scent, hair – all appear in sharp relief; petrol itself wafts from the pages. Beneath these adeptly captured details , however, swims the inchoate lake of adolescent emotion which is Evans’s real subject: Petrol deals in unacceptable desires, semi-disgusting longings, yearning, lust and loss. It is a marvelous poem of youth, insightfully evoking a vanished Ireland and bringing the past to palpitating life…mediumistic, skilful and bittersweet.’ Poetry Review
‘Such genuine, witty writing is a rarity.’ Rachel Cusk
‘She shows an impressive command of what feels like the ideal narrative medium: individual moments and drive of narrative in perfect coordination, language alive and kicking.’ Christopher Reid
Petrol re-affirms, for the 21st century, the traditional gift for storytelling long associated with Irish writers, in a wholly unique and enrapturing manner’. –Tony Murray, Director, Irish Studies Centre, London Metropolitan University
‘Here, the world turns upon a pub, a petrol pump and an impossible love. … Martina Evans’ world is transfixed by personal drama, by epiphanies in bars and Icebergs, Aztecs and Bloody Marys creating a kind of alcoholic, consumerist birdlife that sings above the human drama. Evans’ imagination is a unique one, darting, flitting, resonating with personal and poetic voices. As a poet she is one of a kind and brilliant.’ Thomas McCarthy
‘In the wings of Imelda’s small world, there’s a cast of locals who sit on their high stools around the bar and call to the shop to fill their petrol tanks and collect their “messages”. They lend such texture and authenticity that the seemingly humdrum events of the McConnell sisters’ history are every bit as complex, tumultuous, humorous and tragic as any of the films, television programmes and books which surround Imelda, from Ryan’s Daughter, to Night Gallery, to Catcher in the Rye.’ Sara Baume, Southword Magazine
Viewed in that sense Petrol could be seen as being, like Vertigo, primarily about grief. But in fact it is primarily concerned with a confluence of emotions and sensations. It is interested in describing that moment when adolescence really hits you with a bang. When the adult world is suddenly something which is relevant to you. When finances and responsibility and sex and death are all things which suddenly apply to you, at the very time that your body is changing and distorting all of your senses and emotions so that your heart feels like it’s in your knees. This is the world of Petrol, the strong, cheap smell of that substance permeating these pages like the very odour of adolescence. Evans needs her in-between language to fully evoke this mind state and it’s something she fully utilises, garnering poetry from prose in a way that, by the book’s end, makes you think that, Oh yes, that really was ‘a prose poem disguised as a novella. Why? Because by the book’s close, when ‘the BP sign creak[s] and creak[s] like a horror in the wind’, all of its cumulative resonances lift and shake you, placing you for a moment somewhere higher. Placing you for a moment on that ‘highest terrace of consciousness’, that Nabokov talks of in Speak Memory. ‘Where mortality has a chance to peer beyond its own limits, from the mast, from the past and its castle tower.’ John Lavin, Wales Arts Review
BLOODY Marys, Jaysus! Granddad was disgusted beside the range, Lucky standing on his lap, wet nose pointing high in the air when Agnes ran in from the bar, her brown velour arm wrapped around the plastic ball of the Coca-Cola ice bucket. It’s far from ice they were reared! Granddad said but Justin always made Bloody Marys for his favourites, slim dark women who wore their clothes like Jackie Kennedy. It was a big operation with all the stuff and the Tabasco sauce stirred with a long clanking spoon. Granddad ground his teeth as Agnes tore the tray from the side of the yellow-iced freezer, staggering on her high brown clogs in her modest A-line corduroy skirt. I, too, was thinking she was too good for this work. They don’t know what they want, Granddad said. Ice one minute, hot whiskeys the next.Those bloody women, the Bloody Mary drinkers. And his last comment when the ice cubes tumbled into the Coca-Cola bucket, every single woman that Justin ever took on suffered from her nerves.
from Petrol, Anvil Press 2012
T.L.S Book of the Year 2009
Winner of the 2011 Piero Ciampi International Poetry Prize.
Martina Evans’s poems are a miracle, for the way they combine total clarity with profundity: the way the apparently innocent and observant humour of their narrative surface covers a compassion and understanding that are often heartbreaking and heartbroken. Tragedy and cheerfulness are inextricable here. `Facing the Public’ is my book of the year. – Bernard O’Donoghue
Martina Evan’s poetry collections are a unique Irish aviary, a poet’s birdlife that sings above the obvious political drama. Her imagination is unique, darting, flitting, resonating with personal and poetic voices. Alone among her generation, she has tried to recover a lost psychological atmosphere; she has tried to restore Ireland as a remembered Arcady of mothers and daughters, of aunts and alcoholics. She is at once emotional and shrewd: her modern outlook is well camouflaged from the conservative and provincial vigilantes who roam the Irish poetic territory. Hidden behind the rich lace-curtain of her personal charm, her existentialism sings. – Thomas McCarthy
‘A deceptively casual and enjoyable collection.’ – The Irish Times
These poems are when Evans is at her best. Distinct voices give the feel of locals whispering to each other in the local bars; she creates a sharpened sense of a local community in Ireland during the battle for independence. The intrinsically Irish feel to these poems does not alienate and Evans writes with wit and a lightness of touch that works well in a collection showing how the present stems from the past and the past always looks to the present.’
– Daisy Bowie-Sell, Ambit
OH BART Rack Press January 2012
Rack Press ever impresses, picking up emerging and fledged poets and letting the taut form of a pamphlet test them into experiment, close-argued arrangement and sequence, as here in these limited editions. Martina Evans…free in subject and tone, as here in poems that range and dance over religion and education, The Simpsons and The Godfather. “Prayer, the last refuge of a scoundrel”, she quotes Lisa Simpson… fabulously elastic, strongly voiced lines. Bernard O’Donoghue, right as ever: “total clarity with profundity”, and let me add how hilarious Evans can be.’ – David Morley, Poetry Review Autumn 2012
‘Evans’s Irish childhood and education in the 1960s is vividly represented…the poems take up the themes in funny and rather disturbing precise accounts of her parents, their sweet shop, recalcitrant cats, school and the monologues of Catholic mothers. These look like easy anecdotal poems but they bite. And those dentists – if they are private/they may well want all your teeth…[with you] laid out on the chair/like a corpse/ with a coin in its mouth/travelling/towards the underworld.’
– Alan Brownjohn, The Sunday Times
Although I have a cat, I don’t particularly like cat poems. I was all the more surprised, therefore, to find I had fallen in love with Eileen Murphy. Eileen is (or was) Martina Evans’ cat and she is celebrated in at least two of the excellent poems in this volume. In fact, she is the star of the show so far as I am concerned. At the centre of the book sits its longest poem – ‘The Rabach’. This is a stirring narrative of murder and mayhem.I like the detail (“grasshoppers gritted / among the purple loosestrife”, wild bitter apples / snow, then snowdrops”) and I love the story. Evans is very good at character and detail.Mr Shinkwin, the dentist, for example, his eyes “blazing blue/as the Atlantic ocean”, and Paddy from Dingle ‘his lips moving repeatedly,/up to his hilt/ in communications /with another world”. The precise sensual focus often shocked me into unexpected empathy: “Golden brown tea as good as I drank/out of pink and white cups/in the Convent of Mercy thirty years ago”. I was disarmed by the bitter-sweet, unmistakeable taste of the past, even though it was a past I didn’t share. Good writing can do that.’ – Helena Nelson Ambit
Evans’s great skill is in knowing how much to put into a poem. She has a talent for selecting only the most resonant memories, for not over-icing the cake of sentiment…All Alcoholics are Charmers turns out to be rich in splendidly concise evocations of what it feels like to be Irish in England, in all its quiddity, including the encounters with new cultures on your doorstep…Above all, Evans puts the right words in the right order, a dictum whose simple phrasing embodies its demands. – Michael Dugan in PN Review
She evokes the pains, fantasies and preoccupations of an Irish Catholic childhood and youth, with an Irish tongue for a story and Irish humour, but uses the theme to show what it’s like to be alive…The poems are little dramas and monologues that go straight to the grudges, disappointments, root confusions and hang-ups, showing the depths in trivial things and the trivial in the deep. She writes clean narratives, with nothing but factual adjectives, and all the details part of someone’s experience, making the book a pleasure to read and recommend.’ – Herbert Lomas, Ambit
‘Evans has immediate appeal, not being afraid to take risks, using throwaway lines with zany overtones…Narrative flows, humorous, outspoken, carrying the sting along with it…This is no inexperienced voice and I look forward to hearing more of her.’ Leland Bardwell, Poetry Ireland Review