Family Plot

Joseph Allen

About the book…

I too spent a childhood there
among aunts and uncles
a grandfather grown biblical with age.

These are the things that shape us,
a dark winter afternoon
the sound of a storm in the trees
smell of clothes soaking
in a tin bath in the kitchen.

A Twelfth morning
swords polished
and tested for weight
a row of bowlers
on the mantelpiece.

- from ‘Rituals’



Ballymena poet Joseph Allen’s work is immediate, accessible and deeply intimate.

Focusing on the everyday, his poems evoke emotional landscapes, pinpointing with admirable honesty and tact the particular and painful truths beneath the seemingly unremarkable.

Like the graves in a local cemetery, Family Plot both marks and mourns: the death of family and loved ones; the fading of an Ulster Protestant community’s unique sensibility and the remorseless passing of one’s own life.

And at the heart of the poems is a persona - empathetic, puzzled, wryly humorous - who is at once engaged with but perennially uncertain about his ever-shifting relationships with the past.

Building upon the achievements of Allen’s debut collection, Landscaping (2003), these poems explore communal, familial and psychic rupture leavened with unexpected and delightful continuities.

Whether it is marching in the annual British Legion parade, wondering what to do with Biblical-themed paintings brought into the family decades before by his grandfather, singing classes at school, or simply remembering a girl reading poems on a bus, Allen’s work sings with a lived truth.

Photo of the author, Joseph Allen

About the author…

Joseph Allen was born in Ballymena, Co Antrim. He has published poetry in magazines at home and abroad, including; The Antigonish Review, Agenda, Ambit, Acumen, Black Mountain Review, Cyphers, The London Magazine, Orbis, Poetry Ireland Review, Poetry Salzburg Review, The Reader, Rope, The Shop, The South Carolina Review and The Stinging Fly.

He has published two pamphlets, The Sound of Rooms (2003), and Night Patrol (2004), and three full collections; Landscaping (2007), Family Plot (2009) and Looking for Robert Johnson (2011).

As well as being a poet he is a performing Delta Blues guitarist, singer and harmonica player and also performs in a Bluegrass/Folk band called Sour Hill, playing guitar, dobro, harmonica, banjo, mandolin, auto harp and mountain dulcimer as well as providing vocals. He has recorded four Delta Blues CDs, most recently, Nothin’ but the Devil, on the JA Blues label.

He also writes articles on music and poetry for various magazines, including; The Ulster Folk and Blues Matters.