Text Messages from the Universe was inspired by The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a Buddhist text which guides souls on their 49-day transmigration through the ‘Bardo’, or intermediate state, between dying and rebirth. It immerses readers in subjective states of consciousness they might experience when they die. It imagines what they can see and think and hear in a seamless but fragmentary flow of poetic images which turn time and space on their heads.
“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 universes 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 readers 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
“. . . 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 channeled 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.