Description2021 Winner of the Kathryn A. Morton Prize in Poetry "The book is intimate, expansive, and in moments, willfully hopeful." --Victoria Chang, winner of the PEN Voelcker Award for OBIT
Here are poems with music matched to matter, so that reading them often involves both swoon and startle: "When it folds open, the rule-less rile / of sky," Evans, writes, "the comets and giants. And also: / books, chamomile, and more kissing." Panoramic in time and space, Lives knows each of us, our ordinary lives and our occupancy within history and the universe, our yearning for connection: "And if I turned to you now, my one wet muscle run dry, would you / turn to me? And what else could my heart be for if not to try?"
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About the Author
CJ Evans is the author of A Penance (New Issues Press) and The Category of Outcast, selected by Terrance Hayes for the Poetry Society of America's New American Poets chapbook series. He received the Amy Lowell Poetry Traveling Scholarship, and currently lives in California, where he is the editorial director of Two Lines Press, a publisher of international literature in translation.
"The perceptive, atmospheric second work from Evans (A Penance) is divided into four sections whose poems are both intimate and expansive...full of finely crafted lines and carefully unfolding narratives.'And what else could my heart be for if not to try?' Evans writes in 'Time for Lives Getting Better Is Done, ' capturing the spirit of this searching collection."
--Major Jackson on the poem "Night Terrors in America," The Slowdown Show
"What Lives captures most inventively is the brittle, flibbertigibbet quality of our despair in the face of global catastrophe, the way in which our awareness of the impending destruction of the earth can exist beside the need to "try happiness" today, to choose our own lives over the spiraling abyss....Evans affectingly molds and carves syntax to make tangible the contorted shape of experience at a time of impending catastrophe."
--David Woo, Poetry Foundation
"CJ Evans's beautiful book, Lives, explores and circles around, into and out of what it means to be free and alive in a world where humans insist on war and environmental destruction. . . . The book is intimate, expansive, and in moments, willfully hopeful. As Evans writes: 'here is a price I've exacted/to live, a shadow in which nothing else could grow, /but since I'm here I'd love.'"
--Victoria Chang, winner of the PEN Voelcker Award for OBIT
"In a middle of our mad world, what can a poet say in defense of lyric arts? 'My only defense / is the leap of that spotted deer' says CJ Evans, and gets it just right. Here is the poet who hears crows 'in electrical sockets and in airplanes / and in the arteries in my arms', a poet who insists of speaking of rain which 'falls as if all these woods / weren't owned.' Here, also, is a poet who can write with incredible power about school shootings, and suicide, yes, a poet who knows that every orchard is a forest we broke, and yet also stands up to the abyss that surrounds us, and produces an abundance of his hymn to life. That takes a lot. That takes a skill and the will power for life. But there is more: there is a metaphysician who asks 'why do we even bother to be in our bodies if / we just aim to break them, ' who asks 'how do I keep cutting these flowers / when they cover so many crowded graves.' This is wisdom, friends. And I, for one, am grateful. Grateful, too, for beauty that is always found in these pages. And for the reminder to pay attention to 'lines as they /break at the edges of a mouth, ' and to the moments that make the lyric of our lives."
--Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa
"Lives by CJ Evans annihilates the border between private and public, allowing either to seep into and become the other: 'In/ coming inside into/ our secret room of hands.' In languid lyrics lush as a crowd of firs, Evans finds in relentless detail a life bursting with freedom despite violence and captivity abounding. These poems revise the very act of love--on nature, children, and community--until even the way we live is forever changed. A fantastic collection."
--Phillip B. Williams, author of Mutiny and Thief in the Interior
"In Lives, CJ Evans acutely tunes into the signals emitted from finite and infinite worlds near and far--amidst perpetual violence, wars, and ecocide. The collected signals make up a stunning language that intricately weaves the personal and the political. Lives offers us a deeply intimate and prophetic observation of the now."
--Don Mee Choi, winner of the National Book Award for DMZ Colony Past praise: "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."
--Publisher's Weekly "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."
--Terrance Hayes, winner of the National Book Award for Poetry "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."
--Huffington Post "San Francisco's CJ Evans crashes between rage and romanticism in his debut collection."