Synopses & Reviews
Poetry. "There is an uneasy tenderness to C. J. Evans's A PENANCE. His poems trouble desire, they trouble the world ('The world is furious and I'm so tired / of being furious with it.') until it fractures into the sort of captivating music a modern day Orpheus might sing: 'they know I'll end in their arms, and how tenderly / they'll rip my body.' Evans articulates the violence as well as the beauty of passion with a style that is assured and impressionistic, haunting and precise. He is a magnificent poet. This is a magnificent debut."—Terrance Hayes
"The elegantly armored, brutally beautiful poems that make up A PENANCE call to mind Wallace Stevens's description of imaginative nobility as 'a violence from within that protects us from a violence without.' They present a psyche no less troubled by the ruthlessness of reality than by its own strong appetite for escapism—the work of a mind that thinks 'it's striking / how much dark there is // in this world that houses / diamonds and rivers' even as it questions its own 'wish for a pillowed world // where we slip into / each others' arms and then let fall.' That Evans is able to convert such turmoil into complex, sonically rich, wide-awake and insightful poems is a testament not only to his artistry as a poet (it is immense) but also, ultimately, to an almost miraculous sense of hope."—Timothy Donnelly
"Evans's debut connects his own sense of the visible world, with all its plants and animals, its 'cruel devices,' to metaphors and examples drawn from an underworld of prisons and mean streets. The figure in 'Geode' 'sleeps outside, a knife under her cheek,/ someone's handprints on her bra'; 'Black Today' follows a ghost in a prison yard, where 'Everybody loves somebody elsewhere.' As the real lives of prisoners, and of potential victims, turn up in some of the poems, so do figures for wider injustice, for psychic confinement: 'the stocked// basements we've dug/ to hide ourselves from// ourselves,' figures that link the cold war to the war on terror. And yet, for all the harsh reportage, Evans is at heart a Romantic who registers complaints less journalistic than yearningly metaphysical: 'O, the world has grown so old./ The sparks are all flown... What happened to nickels under streetlamps?' Such questions cannot be answered; nor can the best of his poems. Evans confines himself largely to common words, but his depth of emotion is real, and rare. If the collection feels thin at times, too close almost to a thesis or a demonstration of Evans's future promise, it certainly augurs well." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
About the Author
C. J. Evans is the author of The Category of Outcast, a chapbook published by the Poetry Society of America in 2009; and co-edited, with Brenda Shaughnessy, Satellite Convulsions: Poems from Tin House (2008). He works as the managing editor of TWO LINES: World Writing in Translation and is a contributing editor for Tin House. He lives in San Francisco with his wife, daughter, and three-legged cat.