William Allen (artist)

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The poet and artist at Breadloaf Writers Conference, 1985

William Marshall Allen (born in 1957 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is an American poet and visual artist. His poetry is rooted in Imagism, history, politics, and art. His word art painting and prints are published by Clay Street Graphics Press. He is also represented by Cade Tompkins Fine Art. His poetry and art work is influenced by Concrete Poetry, Fluxus Art, and the ecphrastic tradition in literature and art.

William received an N.E.A. in Poetry in 2009.


William Allen grew up in Connecticut, receiving a bachelor's degree in Art from Wesleyan University and an M.A. in both American History and Creative Writing from New York University. He studied there with Philip Levine, Galway Kinnell, Sharon Olds, and Carolyn Forche. He has worked as tugboat crew, U.A.W. training program instructor, and art trucker. He has taught poetry and writing at New York University, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the School of Visual Arts the Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he currently teaches online. He is also an online course designer and was a software writer at Pitney Bowes Litigation and Document Services in Providence, Rhode Island. He currently works as technical writer and communications specialist in the Office of Information Systems and Technology in the Bureau of Management at the United Nations Development Programme in New York. He lives in New York City with the artist Barbara Westermann.


Poems published in American Voice, Central Park, Chelsea Magazine, Crab Orchard Review, Defined Providence, Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, New Letters, Newport Review, Newport Art Museum monograph on James Baker, The Quarterly, Pequod, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, Ploughshares [1] (editor Paul Muldoon).

Recent poetry readings include Project Rendition at Momenta Art in Brooklyn, NY, Chester College, A.S. 220 in Providence, RI, Wheeler Gallery, with Patricia Spears Jones (with exhibition of paintings), October 2005; White Electric Coffee with Kathleen Hughes, A History of the Azores, March 2005; Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Crisis and Response Show, Poems of Love and War, January 2003, Yaddo Corporation (summer 1998), New York University, the Museum of Modern Art (Pasolini poetry reading with Isabella Rossellini, etc.), Black + Herron Gallery, Brooke Alexander Editions, St. Mark’s Poetry Project, The Knitting Factory with Tom Laverack, La Mama La Galleria, United Nations Coffee House (Poems against the War), Tin Pan Alley, Penine Hart Gallery, and others in NYC.


He has shown his artwork at the E|AB Print Fair in 2007-2006, P.S. 1 Institute for Art & Urban Resources, Long Island City, NY, 1987, the Museum of Modern Art, East West Cultural Connections, Momenta Art in New York, Clay Street Press Gallery and Michael Solway Gallery in Cincinnati, OH, Wheeler Gallery, Providence Art Club, White Electric Coffee in Providence, RI, and at Williams College, the Newark Art Museum and Aljiri Arts Center of NJ, and the Norton Sculpture Gardens in West Palm Beach, FL.

He has work in the permanent collection of Progressive Insurance in Cleveland, OH and Fidelity Investments of Boston.

His word art is published by Clay Street Press Graphics of Cincinnati, OH and include Seven Wonders of the World, Seven Seas, Ten Commandments, Fire Sermon, Two Dreams, Lapis Lazuli, Three Pillows.


Jenné Andrews, in the Colorado Review, has written “The tradition among many men writing poetry today is still that if you approach pain directly, with the first person, it is too much like sentiment. One poet whose work is an exception to that rule is William Allen, and his collection The Man on the Moon, chosen by Philip Levine in the NYU annual publication award in creative writing, is a fascinating, sometimes disturbing work."

Robert Phillips, in Chelsea Magazine (65), writes “ The duty of a poet writing in the ekphrastic mode—describing works of art—is not to duplicate the work of art in words, but rather to enter into it with sympathy and empathy, to attain intimacy with it, and to strike correspondences and epiphanies. As William Allen’s marvelous eye seeks out the telling details in each photograph in Sevastopol, in precise and controlled language, he deserves high praise.”

Jamey Gambrell, in Art in America, May 1984, writes of the Group Material installation at P.S. 1, writes: " Perhaps the most harrowing and effective piece in "Time Line" was Bill Allen's 'History of the U.S. Marine Corps,' where numerous copies of a photograph of a man being confronted by a soldier ran around the upper edge of the room like a recurring nightmare, crowning the rest of the installation. The image was the same, but each photograph bore a different caption: Brazil 1852, Uruguay 1855, Panama 1873, Mexico 1875, and so on."

Ken Johnson in the New York Times, Summer 2001, of a Handmade Words show at K.S. Art, writes, "Professional artists appropriate the look of vernacular authenticity to more conceptually complex ends, creating signs that are more like concrete poetry. A small piece by Christopher Wool has stenciled black letters that say, "You make me"; a pink enamel panel by William Allen bears the haikulike text "Tree shrew/Chewing Gum/Blue Blaze"; whatever else these works might mean, they stand for the enduring value of the unique human touch in an age of electronic and digital communication."

Sara Eisen, in the Cincinnati Enquirer (Dec 9, 2004), writes: "Allen in his art seeks specific words and strategically places them with each other in his pieces, conveying ambiguous but meaningful ideas about various social, historical and philosophical themes. In 'Ten Commandments,' he showcases a personal version of the widely recognized religious doctrine including commandments, such as 'Kissing King William' and 'Stammering out Sentences.' According to Allen, it is an attempt to "work historical and religious ideas into new directions."


Allen was the winner of the New York University Creative Writers Competition for 1986, judged by Philip Levine.

He has received a DAAD fellowship to live and travel in Germany, a Breadloaf Writer’s Conference grant and a Yaddo Fellowship. Recently he was Artist-in-Residence and Writer-in-Residence at Chester College in New Hampshire.

Poems online[edit]