A review of Text Messages from the Universe by Richard James Allen

Reviewed by Beatriz Copello

Text Messages from the Universe
by Richard James Allen
Flying Island Pocket Books
Small format colour paperback, ISBN 978-0-6455503-1-3, Jan 2023

Richard James Allen is a widely published and prize-winning author, as well as being a multi-talented artist excelling in many arts. He describes himself as a poet, dancer, film director, actor, novelist and choreographer. His latest book, Text Messages from the Universe, is a fascinating and unusual poetry book, and I would not expect less from someone so talented and creative.  I was so intrigued by the book that I read the 113 pages in one seating, mind you, it is a pocket sized book, a fact that makes it quainter.  The book is divided into two sections, part one titled “An Introduction to Dying: An Odd Way to be Born” and part two titled “The Book of Bad Dreams.”  Included in the book are a series of very artistic photographs from the film “Text Messages from the Universe” by The Physical TV Company.  Each poem has a beautiful picture in the background, mainly pictures of ballet dancers, male and females frozen in a dance pose.  

Text Messages from the Universe was inspired by The Tibetan Book of the Dead, a book about the transmigration of the souls, this is, the passage from death to rebirth. The poetry in this book is about you, the poet addresses you…human, spirit, brain, the entity that controls your body and you who are are about to be run over by a car or is it me or is it him? The poems are narrative poems, with long and profound lines with a sprinkle of sarcasms and humour. In the section, “An Introduction to Dying: An Odd Way to be Born”, is a short section with poignant words where the poet explores the value of life, with vivid images, we see you dying but are you really dead or are you dreaming?  He muses:

Life is the most powerful state in the universe, though
most beings that pass through it never have any idea 
  of, let alone realise, its potential.
A body and a mind without a soul to guide them is
almost unheard of.  Even if the soul that is guiding them
is imperfect, as most are, at least there’s a hand on the 
wheel.  The vehicle is so tremendously powerful.  It’s
the Holy Grail for floating spirits, waiting aeons for the
chance to act again in the world.

Part Two “The Book of Bad Dreams” is a longer section where the poet concerns himself with constructing the meaning of life and death. The poet is a cognizant of life, he utilises his knowledge to play with sentences, he plays with words, he plays with meaning, he interprets and he challenges the reader with his questions, in one poem he says:

What are you doing here, an unfinished canvas,
asleep amidst the artworks?  You long to be perfect,
to exist forever.  You long to exist in the space which
your perfect self will always be perfect.
You wouldn’t mind being invisible.  You don’t know 
why you can’t just disappear.  Why linger at all?

But perhaps you can’t disappear if you don’t know
who you are in the first place.

This is philosophy at its best, to exist or not, or as Shakespeare put it “to be or not to be”. Allen makes you think, consider, and reflect, and he does it in a very clever way utilising poetic devices and intelligent lines. The poet’s voice is very convincing, whether he uses sophisticated language or everyday language, his unique style draws the reader into the narration. Text Messages from the Universe is a book not to be missed. 

About the reviewer: Dr Beatriz Copello is an award-winning poet, she writes poetry, fiction, poetry reviews and plays. The author’s books are Women Souls and Shadows, Meditations At the Edge of a Dream, Under the Gums Long Shade, Forbidden Steps Under the Wisteria, A Call to the Stars also translated and published in China and Taiwan, Witches Women and Words, Renacer en Azul and Lo Irrevocable del Halcon   (In Spanish). Copello’s poetry has been published in literary journals such as Southerly and Australian Women’s Book Review and in many feminist publications.Copello is mentioned amongst the forty “most notable people” graduated from the University of Technology.