Body Language (Vagabond Press, 2012)
Winner of the 2012 Anne Elder Award for Best First Collection of Australian Poetry.
Body Language is a strong debut collection. Rather than heralding the sudden arrival of an exciting new voice in Australian poetry this book represents a voice that has been there for some time but is only just now confident enough to speak up and make itself heard. Here Allen writes about everyday experiences – doing a crossword, studying a bunch of flowers, watching a bird out the window – as they are refracted through the prism of the poet’s mind with all its obsessions, anxieties and peculiar sensitivities. Allen writes about grief and how we repeatedly make sense of absence, with moving accuracy. These poems take us from Sydney to Italy, from the psychiatrist’s office to the hairdresser’s; there is sex, love, and friendship, and even Kate Moss makes an appearance. Allen’s poems are concerned with emotional rather than factual accuracy.
“Elizabeth Allen is a poet who impresses with her ability to gain meaning from the most subtle contingencies of life. Sensitive, understated and intense, lyrical but grounded, this is a strong and assured collection.”—Adam Aitken
“The poems in Elizabeth Allen’s Body Language explore notions of identity and selfhood inflected by the knowledge and reality of death, that great leveller. They are also meditations on loss and acceptance, the joys of daily life. I am impressed by the risks she takes—being true to the experience but, most importantly, remaining true to the materiality of the poem itself. Quietly, and in her own time, Allen has become a poet, a poet of the body but also of the heart.”—Nicolette Stasko
Praise for Body Language
“When thinking about Allen’s poetry I keep returning to the term ‘understated’. At her best, however, there is an intensity to her understatement which creeps up on the reader – a loss is hinted at, but the everyday continues for a little longer, or there is an edge to a description that makes you wonder what lies below the surface. This is probably why I carried Body Language around with me for so long – to savour that undertow and wonder at the possibilities.” —Rochford Street Review.
“Elizabeth Allen’s first full collection, Body Language, places her squarely among a burgeoning group of young (or youngish) Australian female poets who are dominating the field at the moment. … She finds her poetry in “ordinary” places but it is usually captured from an unusual angle, often the most moving one. Allen is aware of the fragility of life and of its relationships. Frequently her poems depend for their effect on a low-key display of vulnerability, either her own or others’. … Her poems are full of real people and genuine emotion – even if, as is the case in ‘After seven long years underground’, the character is a ghost: ‘the crust of mascara starts to crack and flake. / She claws her way up into your kitchen to stand / wiping the cigarette smoke from her eyes.’ These are the sorts of people Allen makes it a pleasure to meet.”—The Australian
“Elizabeth Allen is clever with her construction of poetry, using vocabulary and descriptive lists from other specialist fields like fishing, art colour names and therapies, to connect her readers with recognisable hooks and poetry melodies. Look out for the ‘suicide hook’, Derwent pencils and yoga poses.”—The Australian Writer