in our hollowed niche of tales, begin the task
of teaching me how to reconfigure the scope of my being. . . .
i will say to you, ‘hello,’ in a voice sandpapery and pure.”
—from “Interrupted Slumber of Stories,” a poem by Allison Rickert
Before she passed away at the age of just 24, Allison Rickert contributed several delightful articles to Phindie. She was also a writer of some intimate, brutally honest poems and journals and a promising editorial assistant at Drama Around the Globe and at Boyds Mill Press, the book publishing division of Highlights for Children.
Henrik Eger offers this personal memory and tribute to a talented young writer lost before her time.
My acquaintance with Allison Rickert began in January 2015, when she applied for an internship with Drama Around the Globe. Her application, which included the full version of the poem above, showed an intelligence and a creativity that made her stand out.
She wrote in her cover letter: “I am a recent graduate [of Millersville University] with an English degree and an ambitious dream to work within the publishing industry. . . . I also worked closely with the literary organization of Lancaster, PA, in an internship where I created an exhibit on T.S. Eliot. . . . I even took a trip to Harvard, where he went to school, to find rare photographs to include in the exhibit.”
Driving all the way to Harvard to dig up photographs of T.S. Eliot? That’s dedication.
I will never forget meeting Allison during her interview. She was edgy, with spiked hair, yet professionally dressed; bright, endlessly polite, but also cautious: she would not drink tea or coffee, not even a glass of water that I had offered, nor would she join me for lunch. Weeks later, she told me that she wanted to guard herself in case the food or the drinks had been spiked.
I realized that the sensitivity which came through powerfully in her poetry had also made her sensitive to the outside world. She shared with me her MBTI personality profile: “I am an INFJ”: “Vision and meaning oriented. Quietly intense. Insightful. Creative. Sensitive. Seeks harmony, growth. Serious. Loves language, symbols. Persevering. Inspiring.” As I found out working with Allison for the next few months, that profile fit her to a T.
Her influence persuaded me to stay vegetarian. Based on her recommendation, I bought a whole box of her favorite vegetarian bars and indulged daily, Allison-style. I vividly remember her munching on vegetarian energy bars while she talked about T.S. Eliot and her beloved grandparents:
“My great-grandparents came from Italy and it’s been my grandmother’s mission to try and find her ancestors, which has proven difficult since her father was an orphan.” she told me. “I think people find much of their identity in where they came from. . . . I know that family history (especially unknown history) can hold a lot of meaning and appeal.” I connected with Allison, agreeing with her that our ancestors can greatly impact our own lives.
Following my recommendation, Allison built her own website. She opened it with the image of a dark, melancholic, and thought-provoking seascape. She developed her skills so quickly that she became the web designer for Drama Around The Globe.
I then invited her to attend the Young Voices Monologue Festival 2015, sponsored annually by the InterAct Theatre in Philadelphia. Allison’s well-written review of the festival for Phindie began with an introduction about millennials, sharing with the readers that she was a millennial like the actors. She added a most charming bio, which included this gem: “When she’s not reading (while sitting on the floor) in bookstores, she’s scribbling in notebooks and exploring bizarre music genres.”
Her review, “The Maturity of Millennials”, was the most widely read article on Phindie during that week in March. When I shared this information with Allison, she wrote, “I’d like anyone involved in the show to know how highly I thought of it.” Six weeks later, Phindie published her beautifully illustrated second article, “The Artist’s Garden: Watch the women bloom”, in which she reviewed with great sensitivity and knowledge an exhibition at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. It, too, found many readers.
Allison moved on from Drama Around The Globe, but I was determined not to lose touch with this sensitive and talented young writer. So it was shocking when I received this email in response to my invitation to a holiday party at my residence:
“This is Allison’s mother. I want to let you know that Allison passed away on September 18 from Multiple Pulmonary Emboli. Allison died very suddenly and my parents were with her when she died. She was a healthy . . . young woman who ate a healthy diet and loved to exercise. We do not know why blood clots formed in her lungs.”
In listening to Allison, especially during our vegetarian lunch breaks, I had seen that there was significantly more to her than a talented writer and editor, but when her mother sent me photos and Allison’s diary entries and poems (from a booklet for all family members and friends) I saw even more of her beauty and sorrow shining through the Allisonean rainbow. Here is a small sample:
Ω I’m thirteen when a boy on my afternoon bus grabs me by the wrists and tells me that my face resembles that of a Rottweiler’s. He gets in real close, his face only inches from mine. . . . I don’t tell him to let go. But I can’t help from squirming when he wrenches me out of my seat and pulls me into his lap curling his arms around me like a vice. . . .
“Your eyes would be pretty,” he says, “if the rest of your face weren’t so ugly.” . . .
I later asked mother if I’m pretty. She brushes the hair across my forehead and tells me, “Of course you are.”
“Why do you ask?”
I shrug and I don’t believe her. I start staring at myself in mirrors and it’s like the word Rottweiler is branded into my skin, seeping into the essence of my being. Rottweilers are ugly and stupid, the boy tells me, and I believe him. . . .
Ω I am nineteen and my boyfriend is telling me while my head is laid on his chest that he kinda sorta believes that I would probably get a score of eighty to ninety on an IQ test. I ask him to please not say that. Rottweilers are stupid and ugly. He tells me, “I’m just being realistic.” . . .
I accept all of these things to be true. It is my fault. . . . Again it is my fault . . . . After all, he’s simply being realistic and these are things that I have been telling myself for years anyway. I am dull to the low end of average intelligence.
Ω I grow to be smart enough that the reason he says those things to me isn’t because they are but because he is dysfunctional enough and dissatisfied with himself enough that he uses me like a ladder to boost his own ego. I am smart enough to see this when he doesn’t. And I am smart enough to leave him.
Ω Ω Ω
Allison, you were not only exquisitely beautiful, but way above average—intellectually and creatively. Only 24 years after you were born in Princeton, NJ, you left this life. I shall miss you. In an almost prophetic way, you wrote these hauntingly beautiful lines in your poem “Interrupted Slumber of Stories”:
“take me apart the way a reader would a bookshelf. . . .
remove every tome and stack them into a teetering
pile so that their voices clamor together— . . .
listen to them like they are your own conscience. . . .
i will look up at you with my eyes at last unburdened.”
Allison Leigh Rickert, I am listening to those voices of yours. Most likely everyone whose life you touched will listen to those voices, too.
And you will live on, Allison—in all of us.
Allison’s poetry and other texts will be published and made available on a website (to be announced). Her life and her writing will be honored with The Allison Rickert Scholarship, or the Ally-Cat Scholarship—to support young writers who are determined to follow in her path and find their own voices.