Gary Allen was born in Ballymena, Co.Antrim. He was born into a large working-class family, received a basic education in primary and secondary schools, before going to college, where he studied mechanical engineering.
After passing his exams, he dropped out of college to travel and work for many years throughout Europe – long stays in Belgium, France, and Germany - settling in Holland for many years, in Amsterdam, Arnhem, Leeuwarden - with a Dutch girlfriend - where he worked in numerous menial jobs: field worker, factory worker, cleaner, a commune in France, a Dutch air force base, a courthouse and prison, to name but a few, hitching across borders to find work.
Many of his poems are written about Europe, especially Holland, a juxtaposition with his poems written about Ireland, but in both instances, he focuses on the poor, the misaligned, the victims (usually women) in society, often charged with a sexual connotation. Other poems use metaphors for ‘the troubles’ in Northern Ireland, the cruelty, viciousness, randomness of two opposed positions that destroy the lives and the society around them, making him one of the most important and distinctive poets in Ireland of his generation.
When he returned home, he started to write poetry, for many years prolifically published in little magazines throughout Ireland and England, before publishing four pamphlets: ‘Irish Notes,’ KT Publications, 1995; ‘The Farthest Circle,’ KT Publications, 1996; ‘Mending Churches,’ Lapwing Publications, 1997; and, ‘Making Waves,’ Flarestack Publications, 1998.
In 2002 he published his first full-length book of poems, ‘Languages’ (Flambard/Black Mountain Press), followed by ‘Exile’ (Black Mountain Press, 2004); ‘North of Nowhere’ (Lagan Press, 2006); ‘Iscariot’s Dream’ (Agenda Editions, 2008); ‘The Bone House’ (Lagan Press, 2008); ‘The Next Room’ (Lapwing Publications, 2010); and, ‘Ha, Ha’ (Lagan Press, 2011).
A prose writer as well as a poet, he has published one novel, ‘Cillin’ (Black Mountain Press, 2005), and a selection of short stories with two other writers in ‘Introductions’ (Lagan Press, 2007).
He has been published widely in literary magazines throughout Ireland, Britain, mainland Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, such as, The Honest Ulsterman, Brangle, Irish Pages, The Yellow Nib, Poetry Ireland Review, Metre, The Stinging Fly, Cyphers, Agenda, Ambit, The Dark Horse, The Devil, Edinburgh Review, Leviathan Quarterly, London Magazine, The New Welsh Review, The North, The Poetry Review, The Reader, Stand, Ars Interpres (Sweden/New York/Moscow), Paris Transcontinental (France), The Threepenny Review (USA), Antigonish Review (Canada), Fiddlehead (Canada), The Malahat Review (Canada), Meanjin (Australia), and Poetry New Zealand, to name but a few.
A selection of his poems have been published in several major anthologies, such as ‘Breaking the Skin – 21st century contemporary Irish poetry’ (Black Mountain Press); ‘The Backyards of Heaven – contemporary poetry from Ireland, Newfoundland, and Labrador’, ‘The Magnetic North – contemporary poetry from the North of Ireland’ (Verbal Arts); ‘Sixty' (Acumen); ‘The New North – contemporary poetry from Northern Ireland’ (Wake Forest University Press, North Carolina), and in the UK by Salt Publishing.