“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

“CJ Evans’s debut collection, A Penance, is a dance of veils, vivid with threads, figures, and musical fringes. Its language is dexterous and muscled, charged always by a need for sanctuary and peace.”
—Cate Peebles, Coldfront

“The elegantly armored, brutally beautiful poems that make up A Penance call to mind Wallace Stevens’s description of imaginative nobility as “a violence from within that protects us from a violence without.” They present a psyche no less troubled by the ruthlessness of reality than by its own strong appetite for escapism—the work of a mind that thinks “it’s striking / how much dark there is // in this world that houses / diamonds and rivers” even as it questions its own “wish for a pillowed world // where we slip into / each others’ arms and then let fall.” That Evans is able to convert such turmoil into complex, sonically rich, wide-awake and insightful poems is a testament not only to his artistry as a poet (it is immense) but also, ultimately, to an almost miraculous sense of hope.”
—Timothy Donnelly

“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.”
—Dean Rader, Huffington Post

“San Francisco’s CJ Evans crashes between rage and romanticism in his debut collection…”
—Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

“This collection should be required reading for anybody interested in contemporary poetry…”
—Daniel Mendoza, Colorado Review

“What carries these poems, ultimately, is Evans’ lyricism. Evans creates tension by constructing poems full of presence and detail. Each poem offers a surprise, whether it’s a sharp linebreak of “irritating // pearl” or the association of “Thirst / after hushes and hands held over lips.” Readers are asked to “Accept metronome, / sparrow, and steeping” within the same breath, and they absolutely should.”
—Carly Joy Miller, Hinged

“If Jean-Luc Godard is right in saying that language is the house man lives in, then CJ Evans has built a striking piece of architecture.”
—Erin L. Miller, Sugar House Review