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Jennifer Matthews

Jennifer Matthews was born in Columbia, Missouri in the USA. After studying for the MA in Creative Writing at the University of Northumbria she moved to Cork, Ireland in 2003 and continues to live there now. Aside from reviews, she also writes poetry and has been published in Mslexia, Revival and Poetry Salzburg, and has read her work at the New Writers Showcase in the Heaventree Poetry Festival in Coventry, UK. In 2010 she was anthologised in Dedalus's 2010 collection of immigrant poetry in Ireland, Landing Places.






Facing the Public
Martina Evans
(Anvil Press 2009)
Buy Facing the Public


Martina Evans, author of Can Dentists Be Trusted? and All Alcoholics are Charmers, has been lauded in many a review for her humour and restraint. Even the titles of her books reflect this, leaving the reader with a wry smile on their face. Evans’s newest collection from Anvil, Facing the Public, very much continues in this trademark style. For her light touch, her compassion and her depth, Bernard O’Donoghue has named it his ‘book of the year’.

                In the title poem, ‘Facing the Public’, we discover that the author’s mother has a flair for performance. ‘She didn’t just own a shop and pub, she told bemused waitresses/ that she was running a business in the country, urgently/ when she insisted that we were served first.’ And as much as we are invited to laugh, the poem also credits her for her influence on the author’s craft. ‘... she could chalk up a picture in a handful of words/ conjure a person in a mouthful of speech ...’

                Facing the Public as a collection is the legacy of this talent of her mother’s for ‘taking off’ others, each piece simultaneously working as poem and dramatic monologue. The characters given voice are sometimes people in her family and sometimes figures from local history. In a wider view, however, the characters can be classed as ‘the vulnerable’ and ‘those who abuse the vulnerable’. Childhood issues are often addressed, but without cloying sentimentality. In ‘Brakes’ the author confronts a suspect adult from her childhood:



But we’d sat down by the hay bales, he’d opened

a bottle of Time beer and put his hand on my ankle.

At the pump house the freshly ironed butterfly motifs

came away from the knees of my brown bell bottoms.


The point of view is a choice carefully made by the author. It is not exactly the child’s voice, but the voice of the adult who was the child, now reflective, aware. This adds an effective distance to the piece. It is chilling; as adults (years after the event), as readers, as observers we can do nothing but listen.

                The childhood years of her parents are also considered in ‘Two Hostages’, where in separate events her mother and father were taken by the Black and Tans. In this classic Evans approach, personal and national history meet. There is the expected: her father as an 18 year old tied up in a Crossley Tender by men who ‘... came like pirates with patches over their eyes/ hooks instead of hands, tormented minds’. There is the unexpected: her mother, a toddler, snatched up by soldiers only to be found later in a pub, ‘like a queen, drinking red lemonade/ surrounded by those same dark faces/ queuing up like suitors’. 

                There are a fair amount of light-hearted and humorous poems in the collection as well, which help pace the read. In ‘Royalty’ the child Evans is in awe of the glamour of the ‘tinkers’ who ‘sported the sidelocks of Victorian cads’. She has a fondness for animals, and cats and horses often make an appearance.  ‘Western Heroes’ in particular is nostalgic and sweet.

                Facing the Public is a strong, accessible collection which will both engage and build her readership.  It’s worth keeping an eye out for her Facing the Public- the show as well, during which she uses photographs to supplement her poetry. More information can be found at martinaevans.com.


©2009 Jennifer Matthews





Author Links

Interviews with various poets through Ó Bhéal

Matthews poems on Poetry International Web

Yank Refugee in the PRC (blog)



©2009 Southword Editions
Munster Literature Centre

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