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Jennifer Matthews reviews Martina Evans's newest poetry collection.




Jennifer MatthewsJennifer Matthews writes poetry and book reviews, and is editor of the Long Story Short literary journal. Her poetry has been published in The Stinging Fly, Mslexia, Revival, Necessary Fiction, Poetry Salzburg, Foma & Fontanelles and Cork Literary Review, and anthologised in Dedalus's collection of immigrant poetry in Ireland, Landing Places (2010). In 2012 she read at Electric Picnic with Poetry Ireland, and had a poem shortlisted by Gwyneth Lewis in the Bridport poetry competition. Her poetry was recognised in both the 2013 and 2014 Over the Edge New Writer of the Year competitions.

Photo © Dave Griffin





Martina Evans

Burnfort, Las Vegas

Martina Evans

(Anvil Press, 2014)

ISBN: 978-0-85646-457-7

€12.55 paperback

Buy from Kennys.ie



“We move the Sacred Heart lamp / closer to Elvis’s face now in the month / of June…” (‘Burnfort, Las Vegas’). Martina Evans’s newest collection of poems, Burnfort, Las Vegas, brings readers to the crossroads of memory and fantasy; prose and poetry; biography and wish. Rural Cork, the geographical heart of the collection, will be familiar to Evans’s readers, but the fresh territory she moves within is the dimension of fantasy.

…as the men come down
from the mountain and fill their vans
with petrol – a violet cloud
with a tantalizing smell and someone
says Burnfort is like New York
to those mountainy men the way
it is all built up…

The juxtaposition of a Sacred Heart lamp and Elvis within the first two lines of a collection is a stroke of genius, setting readers firmly at the GPS coordinates that will orient them to the poems’ world. In this world is a contemporary pantheon created from both celebrity and family, ordinary individuals who are elevated through romance, worship, and fear.

Come up and see me sometime, you said, patting the yellow Formica with swollen crooked hands…”. In ‘Daddy and Mae West’ her father was “old enough to be my grandfather” and “didn’t believe in washing”. Nevertheless “Mammy said there was more to you than met the eye”.  The poem unfolds in a beautiful elegy, a tribute to the farming man who went ballroom dancing and sang to a rapt audience while his “farm implement” was being fixed. Just as Martina Evans’s lightness in her poetry carries with it a weighty, submerged truth, so too we see the hidden depths in the “ordinary” people she writes about.

Beyond the romantic, fear can also turn someone ordinary into something larger than life. In ‘Known to the Guards’, a memory from Evans’s youth of being confronted by a guard for having “a guilty face”. As a figure of authority, he looms dictatorial, “His largeness poured tight/ into his navy blue uniform / he stood over me and / wrote my name in his notebook.” This moment sits alongside others where the utter paranoia of small town life is revealed, where each individual is a kind of celebrity being watched by the paparazzi that are their neighbours. In ‘Low Key’ the narrator is engaging the reader in this kind of small town gossip, and enforcing the ‘virtue’ of simultaneously saying everything and saying nothing—of covering up. Keeping up appearances is crucial: “When I see those ones going round in those scuffed white shoes – God, it looks very low, very cheap.” Scuffs on shoes must be polished off; scuffs in family life must be kept schtum.

Burnfort, Las Vegas is another solid, engaging collection from Martina Evans, worth the purchase for ‘Low Key’ alone. This collection delivers beautifully crafted poems (“violet clouds” of petrol, “yellow stilettos”, “ballooning brandy glass”), written with humour and sensitivity. The poems stay with the reader, leaving one to consider the impact their own persecutors, paparazzi and pantheon have had on their lives. 



©2015 Jennifer Matthews



Author Links


Poems by Jennifer Matthews at Poetry International Web

Long Story, Short Journal

More articles by Jennifer Matthews in Southword Journal






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