Richard James Allen’s poetry has appeared widely in journals, anthologies and online, and he has been a popular reader at multiple performing arts venues, over many years. His latest book, Text Messages from the Universe (Flying Island Books), will be launched in 2023. Earlier volumes include: More Lies (Interactive Press, 2021), The short story of you and I (UWAP, 2019), Fixing the Broken Nightingale (Flying Island Books, 2014), The Kamikaze Mind (Brandl & Schlesinger, 2006) and Thursday’s Fictions (Five Islands Press, 1999), which was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry. Richard is well-known for his multi-award-winning career as a filmmaker and choreographer with The Physical TV Company and as a performer in a range of media and contexts.
Reading Richard Allen’s Text Messages from the Universe, you’re in poetry’s Fun Park, on the other side of the Hall of Mirrors, riding the Ghost Train and Big Dipper at the same time. It’s a headlong, veering, dazzling fever-dream.
Can you disappear if you don’t know who you are in the first place? Is there a lost and found office of the mind? Leave your psilocybin at home and strap yourself in for a flight through the back alleys of the consciousness, where only you can write the autobiography of your own hiatus.
This tantric metro-Dharma, this urban bardic Bardo, is Allen as synesthetic poem of nanomoments, dancing on ice in headlights.
As readers, as players, we can ask, did we weep for the tired angels who “could not fly and sleep at the same time”? —”spinning on the head of a pin”, we can mindfully accept the universe’s call (I riff the Grateful Dead and Nirvana as ringtone and text notification), we can flight mode, dismiss, mark as read, occultly scroll through the 49.
Our reader’s sky burial vertigo reforms/reminds us, inchoate, of the mystical face in an ultrasound scan download forwarded.
“. . . this endless caress of night”.
“It’s like you are a slippery surface. Like you are an ice rink. People glide over you.”
“. . . reading, from upside down, the book of bad dreams.”
“Every time you look, your clothes keep changing.”
“. . . walking for hours around the edge of the sky. Trying not to fall in.”
“You wake up flying. For the last time. This is your sky burial, your sky birth”.
Text Messages from the Universe places the reader right inside a disorienting kaleidoscope of thoughts and sensations. Disturbing and highly original, this is poetry not as the articulation of the already known, not poetry from the comfort zone (“what oft was thought but ne’er so well expressed”), but poetry that explores, that takes risks. Poetry that defines itself as poetry not by inserting line breaks into descriptions or well-meaning statements of belief, but poetry as a distinctive way of thinking and feeling, groping towards new insights.
What happens to us when we die? What happens as we die, as we are on the point of dying? What might it feel like, being born or dying? If I project myself, or find myself projected into the moment of leaving my earthly life, what might it feel like? How might the imagination be channelled towards this experience? What images and emotions might our own death-space bring? How might we imagine all this as 21st century people?
Such is the gambit Richard James Allen undertakes in this riveting, cinematic book-length poetic text.