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ISBN 978-0-9561073-5-0
First published October 2010; 64 pp
paperback with endpapers; 198 x 129 mm
click here to read a pdf excerpt.
Fergus Allen was born in 1921; his father was Irish, his mother English. After attending Quaker schools in Ireland and graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, he moved to England during the Second World War. He was Director of the Hydraulics Research Station and ended his professional career as First Civil Service Commissioner. Since his retirement he has published three books of poetry with Faber and one with Dedalus Press.

Fergus Allen’s New & Selected Poems, published in 2013, includes poems from Before Troy and his previous four collections, as well as new poems.

Fergus Allen  Before Troy
‘Allen writes poetry that is limpid, very subtle and marvellously wise.’
      – William Boyd

Writing from a lifetime of rich experience, Fergus Allen offers poems of precision and fine observation, stripped of illusion yet deeply human in their affections and glancing wit. The confusions of abroad, of childhood and memory, of love and sex and identity, are rendered here with a bracing clarity.

Of Fergus Allen’s previous collection, Gaslight & Coke, Fiona Sampson wrote in the Irish Times: ‘This is beautiful writing, but it also has about it the savagery of the authentic. Allen does that rare thing: he adheres to the true north of poetry.’

‘A remarkable energy drives this collection by the nonagenerian Fergus Allen, his fourth since Faber first published him in 1993. His poems whisk us in the opening pages from Lahore to the Dutch polders to Naples, Morocco, Troy . . . There is a wistful, profound attentiveness to the sadness and absurdity of things that recalls – it may be relevant that Allen was for many years a civil servant – poets of the T’ang Dynasty. He is completely at ease with colloquial idiom, however, and rarely sounds out of key with his time, happily adopting a persona (“The Small Hotel”, “The New King of the Castle”) or playing games with narrative (“Some Days Later) . . . Casting a cold eye on death, Fergus Allen also plays the mild old wicked man, who imagines a “Midnight Tattoo Artist” at work on a woman’s body, and remembers “That marshmallow kiss you gave me in the car park – / So unlike the sublimated pecks / From the thin chapped lips of my acquaintances.”’
     – John Greening, Times Literary Supplement

‘This is a treat. Fergus Allen [born 1921] doesn’t write like an old man. When he talks of “the bad-tempered geese in St Stephen’s Green”; “the treacherous stone steps down to the well/ being slippery as the smile of Morgan le Fay” and of how “a seagull sniggered overhead” he writes with the fresh eye of a younger man, although elsewhere he writes, with a smile, from experience: “flying ants came at us out of the sun,/ Sweeping inside our shirts, biting our midriffs/ And tangling in our hair like semen.” He can be gloriously colloquial, too, as when, in “Some Days Later”, he suddenly stops: “Sorry, that was a false start,/ A mixing up of cycles./ Let me take another run at it”, and then he’s off again. In his best pieces – “The Women on the Islands”, “Southern Ocean” (“And still alive with leopard seals and creatures,/ Eternally eating and being eaten”), “Lovers”, “A Note from the Superman” and the title poem – he is subtle, amusing and, above all, deeply human.’
      – Keith Richmond, Tribune

‘His work has a sense of the contemporaneity of the past, of the ghosts that dwell among us . . . Allen has the patience and refinement of a restorer, stripping down the familiar layers of hackneyed surface to show a world characterised by breathtaking colours and textures underneath.’
      – Jonathan Ellis, Metre