Tuesday, 20 October 2009
Martina Evans: Facing the Public
I have just finished a fine new collection of poems by the Irish poet and novelist, Martina Evans, called Facing the Public and published by Anvil (£7.95). This is one of the best collections I have read for some time, drawing deep on her experience growing up in Ireland, the youngest of ten children, in a bar and shop in Cork in wonderfully deft and supple narratives. "These look like easy, anecdotal poems," Alan Brownjohn said of an earlier collection, "but they bite." That's certainly true of the new collection too – for beneath the swift-flowing narrative surface lie the raw anguish of childhood experience, and of family life, and the wider political legacy of sectarian and political violence. There's fine, dry humour here that suddenly lays bare the shock of raw experience or betrayal as when she tells of being invited to sit on the knee of a rather too friendly pseudo-progressive Franciscan at her boarding school: "I thought he was the liberated uncle I never had/so when he asked me to sit on his lap/I was genuinely sorry that I couldn't oblige." These are unillusioned pictures of Irish family life, with a sharp political perspective that is taken in by no one. Some of the short prose-poems made me impatient for more of those equally skilful and sharp-seeing novels like Midnight Feast that made Evans's reputation. "Tragedy and cheerfulness are inextricable," Bernard O'Donoghue has said about her poems. The mixture is compelling.