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.
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.
CJ Evans is the author of The Category of Outcast, a chapbook published by the Poetry Society of America; and co-edited, with Brenda Shaughnessy, Satellite Convulsions: Poems from Tin House. 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.