Artist and daughter Lotte in 1994 in New York

Good Fish, Bad Fish - Recent show at Super Dakota

About the Author

William Marshall Allen (born in 1957 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) is an American poet and visual artist. His poetry is rooted in Imagism, history, politics, and art. His word art painting and prints are published by Clay Street Graphics Press. He has also been represented by Cade Tompkins Fine Art in Providence and Super Dakota in Brussels. His poetry and art work is influenced by Concrete Poetry, Fluxus Art, and the ecphrastic tradition in literature and art.

Painter, printmaker and poet, Bill has been working in the world of words and images for three decades. A child of Fluxus art, Concrete and political poetry, historical curiosities, he works in an ecphrastic, ecstatic tradition. That is to say, where words and images go hand in hand, where a state of awe is in the air. Like a nine-year old with a field guide and a magnifying glass, Bill curates language, taking apart taxonomies, recombining categorical knowledge in visual haiku, straining for nuggets of wisdom, precision, philosophy, or humor.

Bill's work explores the formal quality of words, its acoustics and ambiguities. It seeks out the luxuriousness and languor of words joyfully lolling off the tongue. It’s an anti-narrative tradition looking for a story, a place, a body that is larger than its fragmented literary or linguistic arms and legs.

The works in Here Today… quietly assert the beauty of language and the catalog, from Paleo food, gene names, undersea life, endangered creatures that are here today-- and here tomorrow? -- to strange geographies that show how arbitrary and infamous our naming systems are. Add assonance and alliteration and you have a poem on the wall. Vying with information overload, Bill builds his web of words in art's world, with tangible materials-- wood, aluminum, brushes full of happy hardware paint.

This smart-art-meets-sign-painting is meticulous and meditative, where folk art and signature become the voice. As a viewer reads out loud, patterns emerge, flow together or get dizzy with idiosyncratic prose. Our language, it seems, is a frenetic dustbin of ethnographies, egg cream, egomaniacal urges, but something to trust and to believe in.

A recent work, My Friend the Dog, plays with the edge of painted word and what lies beneath. Here names of beloved dog breeds are rendered on aluminum 'Beware of the Dog' signs, looking for what's tender as well as taught. Although not obvious at a glance, the artist revels in the secret, subtle shifts of meaning between form and function, between the underlying primal message and its frisky recreation.

Bill's work has been included in exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, PS 1, Momenta Art, and the NYC subway, Harvard University, Williams College, Newark Art Museum, Norton Sculpture Gardens, and on the Buffalo metro bus lines. His prints with Clay Street Press are done on paper, Egyptian cotton, limestone, and zinc. He is a recipient of a Queens Council on the Arts Fellowship (2012) for his Queens Street names paintings, and a National Endowment of the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship (2009) for Bannister's Landscapes, a set of poems about the Providence, RI African-American Beaux Art painter with very telling titles for his paintings. His two published books of poems are The Man on the Moon (Persea and NYU Presses, 1987) and Sevastopol: On Photographs of War (Xenos Press, 1997). New poetry includes 21 Stations about the 7 train in New York and Linea Eins, about the German U-Bahn of the Berlin Wall.


He grew up in Connecticut, receiving a bachelor's degree in Art from Wesleyan University and an M.A. in both American History and Creative Writing from New York University. He studied there with Philip Levine, Galway Kinnell, Sharon Olds, and Carolyn Forche. He has worked as tugboat crew, U.A.W. training program instructor, and art trucker. He has taught poetry and writing at New York University, the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, the School of Visual Arts the Rhode Island School of Design, and the University of Massachusetts Lowell, where he currently teaches online. He is also an online course designer and was a software writer at Pitney Bowes Litigation and Document Services in Providence, Rhode Island. He currently works as technical writer and communications specialist in the Office of Information Systems and Technology in the Bureau of Management at the United Nations Development Programme in New York. He lives in New York City with the artist Barbara Westermann.


The Man on the Moon. New York University Press (hardcover), 1987. ISBN 0-914610-52-X (paperback) Persea Press, 1987. ISBN 0-89255-114-3 Sevastopol: On Photographs of War. Xenos Press, 1997 ISBN 187937302.

Poems published in American Voice, Central Park, Chelsea Magazine, Crab Orchard Review, Defined Providence, Denver Quarterly, Indiana Review, New Letters, Newport Review, Newport Art Museum monograph on James Baker, The Quarterly, Pequod, Poetry East, Prairie Schooner, Southern Poetry Review, Ploughshares (editor Paul Muldoon).

Recent poetry readings include Super Dakota Gallery in Brussels, Kunstrum in Berlin, Grand Central branch of the New York Public Library, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts (with Eric Moe), Project Rendition at Momenta Art in Brooklyn, NY, Chester College, A.S. 220 in Providence, RI, Wheeler Gallery, with Patricia Spears Jones (with exhibition of paintings), October 2005; White Electric Coffee with Kathleen Hughes, A History of the Azores, March 2005; Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Crisis and Response Show, Poems of Love and War, January 2003, Yaddo Corporation (summer 1998), New York University, the Museum of Modern Art (Pasolini poetry reading with Isabella Rosellini, etc.), Black + Herron Gallery, Brooke Alexander Editions, St. Mark’s Poetry Project, The Knitting Factory with Tom Laverack, La Mama La Galleria, United Nations Coffee House (Poems against the War), Tin Pan Alley, Penine Hart Gallery, and others in NYC.


He has shown his artwork at the E|AB Print Fair in 2012-2006, P.S. 1 Institute for Art & Urban Resources, Long Island City, NY, 1987, the Museum of Modern Art, East West Cultural Connections, Momenta Art in New York, Clay Street Press Gallery and Michael Solway Gallery in Cincinnati, OH, Wheeler Gallery, Providence Art Club, White Electric Coffee in Providence, RI, and at Williams College, the Newark Art Museum and Aljiri Arts Center of NJ, and the Norton Sculpture Gardens in West Palm Beach, FL.

He has work in the permanent collection of Progressive Insurance in Cleveland, OH and Fidelity Investments of Boston. His word art is published by Clay Street Press Graphics of Cincinnati, OH and include Seven Wonders of the World, Seven Seas, Ten Commandments, Fire Sermon, Two Dreams, Lapis Lazuli, Three Pillows, Cincinnati Street Names, and Three Worlds.


Jenné Andrews, in the Colorado Review, has written “The tradition among many men writing poetry today is still that if you approach pain directly, with the first person, it is too much like sentiment. One poet whose work is an exception to that rule is William Allen, and his collection The Man on the Moon, chosen by Philip Levine in the NYU annual publication award in creative writing, is a fascinating, sometimes disturbing work."

Robert Phillips, in Chelsea Magazine (65), writes “ The duty of a poet writing in the ekphrastic mode—describing works of art—is not to duplicate the work of art in words, but rather to enter into it with sympathy and empathy, to attain intimacy with it, and to strike correspondences and epiphanies. As William Allen’s marvelous eye seeks out the telling details in each photograph in Sevastopol, in precise and controlled language, he deserves high praise.”

Jamey Gambrell, in Art in America, May 1984, writes of the Group Material installation at P.S. 1, writes: " Perhaps the most harrowing and effective piece in "Time Line" was Bill Allen's 'History of the U.S. Marine Corps,' where numerous copies of a photograph of a man being confronted by a soldier ran around the upper edge of the room like a recurring nightmare, crowning the rest of the installation. The image was the same, but each photograph bore a different caption: Brazil 1852, Uruguay 1855, Panama 1873, Mexico 1875, and so on."

Ken Johnson in the New York Times, Summer 2001, of a Handmade Words show at K.S. Art, writes, "Professional artists appropriate the look of vernacular authenticity to more conceptually complex ends, creating signs that are more like concrete poetry. A small piece by Christopher Wool has stenciled black letters that say, "You make me"; a pink enamel panel by William Allen bears the haiku-like text "Tree shrew/Chewing Gum/Blue Blaze"; whatever else these works might mean, they stand for the enduring value of the unique human touch in an age of electronic and digital communication."

Sara Eisen, in the Cincinnati Enquirer (Dec 9, 2004), writes: "Allen in his art seeks specific words and strategically places them with each other in his pieces, conveying ambiguous but meaningful ideas about various social, historical and philosophical themes. In 'Ten Commandments,' he showcases a personal version of the widely recognized religious doctrine including commandments, such as 'Kissing King William' and 'Stammering out Sentences.' According to Allen, it is an attempt to "work historical and religious ideas."


Bill received a Virginia Creative Arts Center grant in 2013; he received a Queens Council on the Arts fellowship for painting in 2012 for his Queen Street Names.

He received a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship in 2009.

Bill was the winner of the New York University Creative Writers Competition for 1986, judged by Philip Levine and has received a DAAD fellowship to live and travel in Germany, a Breadloaf Writer’s Conference grant and a Yaddo Fellowship. Recently he was Artist-in-Residence and Writer-in-Residence at Chester College in New Hampshire.

His word-art multiples are available from:

Clay Street Press.

1312 Clay Street

Cincinnati, Ohio 45210

TEL 513-241-3232/FAX 513-241-3029

Bill's email:

Online references

ARGO Group -

Art and Politics Now -

Artist collaborator Barbara Westermann -

Artsy -

Cade Tompkins Projects -

Chazan Gallery -

Clay Street Press -

Committed to Print, MOMA -

Crossing Queensbridge poem -

Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts -

Endless Landscapes -

Flugblatter -

Group Material -

Museum of Modern Art -

National Endowment for the Arts -

Ploughshares -

Poets and Writers -

Printed Matter - I'm History -

Project Rendition -

Super Dakota -

Sevastopol: On Photographs of War -

The Man on the Moon -

Tate Museum, A Chronicle of Political Interventions -

Tate Museum article -

Williamsburg-Greenpoint Art News -