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Now We Can Talk Openly About Men by Martina Evans – poetry review

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A pair of contrasting monologues set in 1920s Ireland are witty and humane to an outstanding degree

Kitty Donovan, a dressmaker in the time of the Irish war of independence, arrives on the opening page of this book fully formed. It is 1919. She does not seem invented. You hear her voice in your head – insistent, opinionated, revved up – and long to hear her speak aloud for this poetic monologue is just begging to be performed. Martina Evans’s outstanding book needs to be taken on as a radio piece without delay – or, perhaps, put on stage. Its second half belongs to another Irish woman, Babe Cronin, who, like Kitty, vents about life, but times have now changed and it is 1924. Babe is a stenographer in London who has fallen in love with a young revolutionary and their monologues are intertwined because Eileen, the woman with whom Babe has fallen in love, once lived and sewed with Kitty, an orphaned apprentice.

I loved everything about this book: its tragicomic shambles of an opening involves a husband lost and found (is he a vision, a side-effect of the laudanum to which Kitty is hooked?) alongside a mislaid hat. “After twelve years/Could he have clambered out the other/side of Sullivan’s Quay that night in Cork/ran away fast with his bowler under/his arm? We never found the hat although/Eileen Murphy and myself searched high/and low, tearing the damp walls, our hands/bright green from the moss.”

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