northern california book award finalist
"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....his depth of
emotion is real, and rare."
"There is an uneasy tenderness to CJ 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."
"CJ Evans’s debut collection, A Penance, is a dance of veils, vivid with threads, figures, and musical fringes. Its language is dexterous and muscled, charged always by a need for sanctuary and peace."
—Cate Peebles, Coldfront
"The elegantly armored, brutally beautiful poems that make up A
Penance call to mind Wallace Stevens’s description of
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."
"A few things make this debut collection neither predictable nor
conventional, the most impressive of which is a riveting combination of
intensity and accessibility. Beautiful lines are not new to poetry, but
beauty and approachability don't always chat each other up in
contemporary poetry. Evans wants to change that."
—Dean Rader, Huffington Post
"San Francisco’s CJ Evans crashes between rage and romanticism in his
—Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair
"This collection should be required reading for anybody interested in contemporary poetry..."
—Daniel Mendoza, Colorado Review
"What carries these poems, ultimately, is Evans’ lyricism. Evans creates tension by constructing poems full of presence and detail. Each poem offers a surprise, whether it’s a sharp linebreak of “irritating // pearl” or the association of “Thirst / after hushes and hands held over lips.” Readers are asked to “Accept metronome, / sparrow, and steeping” within the same breath, and they absolutely should."
—Carly Joy Miller, Hinged
"If Jean-Luc Godard is right in saying that language is the house man lives in, then CJ Evans has built a striking piece of architecture."
—Erin L. Miller, Sugar House Review
POEMS FROM A PENANCE
Here is the fragile useless: horses; fingers along the
of a wrist; the thrust of her hip as she walks; sand dunes and irritating
pearl in boot; xylophonic ribs and a chest that could hold
Young men who’ve forgotten they’re poor in the morning, monsters,
politicos, the porpoise of a woman near orgasm, and yes,
clavicles viscera of all sorts. The Saint Christopher’s medal worn
in prison, and landmines and stamens and blood on the
photographed on cobbles. The hollow of her inner thigh, the shadows
of her eyelashes. The dead. Everywhere here. Tattooed teardrops
or cherry blossoms. Needles. Pray for us. How kissing either works
or doesn’t. And yes, how we may all become orphans tonight.
How we will never know if it would have turned out differently
had we done it differently. The hard vowels of disease. And
and cement and hands and fire ants and orange and pray for us.
We have seen the bodies. And our napes itch
equally. We make the apologies
if apologies are due, ignore the men
dictating what a proper response
may be. When the wicked water drew up
over their toes, surprisingly warm, who
worried what they thought? We wonder for them.
Taste the penny of panic, pile our bodies
under their feet to hold their heads above
for one minute more, since the last
thing we want is to want them back.
to bed in a broke boat
Demised the low-played
radio, and an avalanche
covers the urchin. Only
oubliette, no shinbone.
Cozy and coiled tight
the tiny motors; muzzled
the filament’s kindle.
The passing fletching-deep,
but another chance for
her to return. The ocean
trips the fuse. Errs
rehearse in the opera house
of private, and the novel
slumps on the nightstand.
My taciturn is burned
down to withered;
my ailments boiled in
the alembic. I’m prayed,
dark-skied. Fast the fading
in the houses of men.
It’s spring and the bees are big.
He likes to put his face to their fur
and breathe the clinging scent
of the flowers they’ve visited.
He finds an orange, large as a door,
pierces it and drinks the juice.
He’s not sure how he feels
about the new world, but the juice is nice.
When the wind blows and the dandelion seeds fall
from so high up they knock down
the men who walk with arms crooked for the arms of ladies
wearing printed dresses and hidden lace,
he is afraid of how big all the little things seem.
When the rains come and the corn sirens its growth,
or he doesn’t want the cloying smell of the Earth
so strong in his nose,
he wishes for before, when he was alone.
Then the trees are so tall the leaves break loose
and simply drift off to be shredded by comets.
And the rot begins, the world folds in on itself.
Nothing smells sweet anymore except the breeze.
This is when he leaves her
and the world shrinks and shrinks
until the bees, once again, think his chest a cliff.