Few people know that Sun Ra, besides being an avant-black futurist big band leader, was also a poet. He and his band would recite chants and poems during and between songs at performances, and now, thanks to Kicks Books—Norton Records’ publishing imprint—many of Ra’s works of words are collected in the appropriately titled This Planet is Doomed. All of the themes of Sun Ra’s music are present here. There are romantic notions where the idea is to “dream my dreams / reach into the well as philosophical treatises in poetry darkness / and touch the stars,” as form. In Ra’s poetry, outer space and the apocalypse are always near and earth is backwards and primitive. Poems such as the title poem and the punk-rock-esque “Earth is a Hole in Space” confirm that viewpoint.
Some of these poems ended up as lyrics for some of Ra’s more obscure songs. “Message to the Earthman” ended up as a wild and wooly rock ‘n’ roll track with its repeating words acting as a chant to take listeners and readers away from this planet. Ra also revamps the rhythm of his poems throughout several of them by reworking certain phrases and repeating lines with only one word change, such as “out is the way of the outer / and in the way of the inner / the in of the inner in” in “The Damnedest Air.” This continues into an almost tongue-twister as it continues “is different from the outer in / because the outer in is the outer out yes.” This serves either to enlighten or confuse the reader, but the language itself becomes a music not unlike Ra’s musical themes.
Some of these poems get out into the universe, but that does not make them unintelligible or boring. As Sun Ra says outright, “Strange worlds whirl in my mind.”