Martina Evans was born in 1961 to a large family in County Cork, where her mother ran a pub, a shop and a petrol station. The youngest of ten siblings, family and local history is a major presence in her work. After studying at UCC and St Vincent’s Hospital in Dublin, she began a fifteen-year career as a radiographer. Evans moved to London in the late 1980s, where she completed a degree in English and Philosophy with the Open University and began writing poetry and novels. Awards soon followed, including the Betty Trask Award in 1995 and the Arts Council England Award in 1999 for her novels Midnight Feast and No Drinking No Dancing No Doctors respectively. Additionally, she is involved in the writing community as a creative writing teacher (London Metropolitan University), competition judge (Listowel) and journalist (Irish Post, Irish Times and The Guardian).
Aside from her novels and journalism, Martina Evans is known in both Ireland and the UK for her poetry; her work has been published widely in Magma, Southword, Ambit and Oxford Magazine, to name a few, and anthologised in City Lighthouse and Best of Irish Poetry. She has gained enviable recognition from respected poets such as Bernard O’Donoghue, who said of Facing the Public: “[her] poems are a miracle, for the way they combine total clarity with profundity . . . Tragedy and cheerfulness are inextricable here”. Of Can Dentists Be Trusted, Alan Brownjohn aptly advised, “These look like easy anecdotal poems but they bite.”
Indeed, her light touch shouldn’t be mistaken for flippancy or shallowness. Her work uses clarity and humour to convey meaning rather than ornate description or over-wrought philosophising. This is often delivered via a strong narrative voice, as in ‘Reprisal’: “Never trust a Palatine or a Bastard—/ and Ould Fritz was both.” In the revenge tale of this poem, we see many of Evans’s trademark approaches at work, including a personalisation of history (in this case, of the War of Independence) and observation of human flaws or failings. This knack for capturing voice and character has made her popular as a reader, and she sometimes gives performances along with two other poets as part of the Anvil Sisters troupe. Innovatively, she has created a multi-media show to enhance her readings of her award-winning fourth collection Facing the Public.
Evans currently teaches creative writing at the City Literary Institute and lives in London with her daughter, Liadáin.
Midnight Feast, Sinclair-Stevenson, London, 1996
The Glass Mountain, Sinclair-Stevenson, London, 1997
No Drinking No Dancing No Doctors, Bloomsbury, London, 2000
The Iniscarra Bar and Cycle Rest, Rockingham Press, Ware, 1995
All Alcoholics are Charmers, Anvil, London, 1998
Can Dentists Be Trusted? Anvil, London, 2005
Facing the Public, Anvil, London, 2009
Martina Evans’s website
Biography and links on the Munster Literature Centre website
Martina Evans’s page on www.poetrypf.co.uk
Audio recording of Evans reading on RTÉ radio