Present (Vagabond Press, 2017)
A collection of stand-alone poems, certain themes and preoccupations bind the poems of Present together – family, friendship, loss and acceptance, the attempt to gain meaning from the experiences of daily life. The conversational and plain-spoken, if not always reliable, “I” of these poems attempts to express that which can’t be conveyed by traditional autobiographical modes of writing through experiments with form as well as voice. Allen uses humour and lucid observation to explore dark subject matter and the persistent question of distance; how in all relationships (including that of narrator and reader) we constantly juggle intimacy and connection with what is unfamiliar and strange.
“Elizabeth Allen explores dark territory with extraordinary deftness of touch, warmth and humour. Freestanding lyrics of precise and unusual observation find their place within and alongside delicately arranged prose sequences. A book not to miss. Read it as a whole and savor it poem by poem.”—Vivian Smith
“I haven’t laughed so much in a long while. It is as if these poems are the distilled memoir of a wit and a raconteur with heart. Elizabeth Allen’s Present is a luminous opening of the private world onto the public, through a voice that is at once modest and acerbic, sensitive and surprising. This book is a gift not only for poetry lovers, but for all thoughtful human beings attempting to navigate the contemporary world.”—Jessica L. Wilkinson
Praise for Present
“The conflicted and unsure speaker of Allen’s Present, dealing with not only online disconnect, but dispassionate lovers, loneliness, gardens, memories, and shopping, heads ultimately towards the brilliantly dry final long prose poem, ‘Inpatient (Impatient)’, which is set in the wards of a psychiatric hospital. Despite this slow descent into the white-grey numbness of quotidian medical routine – standing in stark opposition to the hallucinatory terrors of Artaud and Nerval – the voice of Present maintains its approachability. It is an impressive accomplishment, reaching out to the reader to take them directly into the bright, sometimes shaded worlds of the poems. Present asks for understanding and in its elegance achieves a startling amount of page turning empathy. Rarely have I devoured a book of poetry with such manic appreciation and understanding of the speaker’s quibbles and problems with the world of love and life.”—Australian Book Review
“These contrary responses I had to the volume, separated by months, made me realise that these poems, deceptively unadorned, are capable of moving the reader in many different ways, perhaps depending on our own mood or receptiveness as we read. It is a sentiment that is summed up in a poem called ‘Thread’, where Allen writes:
The hypnotism of watching a line pulled behind the boat for hours, the lure skipping along the water— thinking it must feel good to drag along the surface like that and not go too deeply into things.
The poems in Present are a little like this image – we can delight in their perceptiveness, the forthright nature of the speaker as she navigates her own life in suburban Sydney with a delicious, self-deprecating humour; but we can also be pulled to greater depths, resurfacing with a series of epiphanies, not least that pain is inevitable, delight is necessary and life is absurd: ‘I often cry with laughter’ says Allen. It is a perfect line to summarise Present.”—Sydney Review of Books
Pam Brown’s Sydney Launch Speech for Present