The Feliciano School of Business’ lecture hall was packed with avid fans of poetry listening attentively to a hazel-eyed, dark-haired, Irish-accented woman reading a series of her favorite poems to the students in Lucy McDiarmid’s art of poetry class at Montclair State University.
Renowned poet and novelist Martina Evans, a native of County Cork, Ireland, appeared in the afternoon on Thursday, Oct. 25, at the School of Business to discuss her written works with a class that had been studying her poems published in her poetry book, “The Windows of Graceland.”
Published in 2016, the book is based on Evans’ own background and personal experiences, such as her Catholic faith, revelations of the dark pasts of Ireland and even the poet’s love for Elvis Presley’s music.
A few of the poems that Evans read aloud and discussed openly were in the “Graceland” collection, such as “The Day My Cat Spoke to Me,” “Facing the Public,” “The Death of Eileen Murphy from Cancer of the Mouth,” “Every Year She Said,” “Catholic Mothers’ Monologue,” “Babies” and “Nighttown” (two of which were not included in her book).
Evans was born in 1961 as the youngest of 10 children, with her mother as a homemaker and her father a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). Aside from her writing career, she worked as a radiographer for many years. She worked in the medical field because her family did not support her ambitions to become a writer.
Evans started writing poetry when she was 26 years old. She said it brought out her passion because it was intense.
“There was sometimes fusing, because I was the underdog [in my relationship with my siblings],” Evans said.
Her relationship with her mother is the main subject of her poems “Facing the Public” and “Every Year She Said.” Evans described their relationship as pretty good but at some points strained, due to the large size of the family.
“When I got older, I grew to love her as much as I did in the beginning,” Evans said. “It’s the strongest relationship I ever had.”
Evans has established the same bond with her own daughter, who is now 27 years old.
Two students in the art of poetry class, Luke Martino and Chynna Soza, gave their feedback to Evans’ poetry reading, both of which were positive.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Martino, a junior English major. “I haven’t been to a poetry reading before, so I think it was interesting listening to the author herself. I really liked getting her insight on all the thoughts, and her comments were really nice.”
Soza, also a junior English major, enjoyed attending the reading.
“It was very different from the poetry readings I’m used to,” Soza said. “Her voice was actually very soothing, and I had to stop myself from falling asleep because I’m used to more passionate readings, but Evans’ reading was very nice.”
Both Martino and Soza agreed that their favorite aspects of Evans’ reading were her soothing voice, her own insight into the poems and her ability to put emotion in to her reading that make the readers connect with the poems.
Evans is a feminist who expressed very strong views about women’s rights and justice for people who have been put in extreme situations in their lives. One of her political interests is the injustice of Omar Khadr, who was convicted as a 16-year-old in 2002 for the murder of U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher J. Speer.
During her visit, Evans voiced her views about the politics of injustice that happen in the United States, and she expressed an interest in learning about the lives of young men, such as Khadr, who was placed in an unfortunate situation because he was still a minor at the time of his conviction.
In her poem “Every Year She Said,” which was based on her mother in the light of every family Christmas, Evans expressed feminist views that women should not stay home and take on maternal tasks, such as cooking and cleaning.
“Every time I see women cooking, I get really angry, and I think we should put our feet down,” Evans said.
Evans also gave advice for writers block and how things surrounding us can make a difference.
“Find a book of exercise and write anything,” Evans said. “Write about your shoes, write about a moment of separation. Time is the best editor. It’s like a garden, so you’re never really blocked.”