The Alphabet Conspiracy


“Here indeed is a master poet at work, deftly and persuasively ranging across cultural references that extend from Babylon to West Virginia, from movie theaters to madhouses, from ghost words to words that form phrases of heartbreaking beauty likely to leave readers breathless. . . . [A] remarkable collection of poems that will go on whispering in your ear long past the moment you turn the last page.”

—Eleanor Lerman

The Alphabet Conspiracy takes its name from a 1950s -era school filmstrip of the same title. With a cast that includes patron saints for country girls and criminals, a Revolutionary War hero, the Wolfman, a sin-eater, John Wayne, and Johnny Cash, these poems swagger and sulk through an educational film turned film noir, replete with femme fatales in love. Mark Doty noted that the title poem "artfully addresses itself to the way children are taught to enter--and then become trapped by--a world constructed of language." Rita Mae Reese digs beneath the surface of dictionary entries to uncover their secrets and to discover some of her own, as in the poem “Womanless,” stemming from a headword in Webster’s Tenth New Collegiate Dictionary for which there is no entry:  


And what about me? When I look in a mirror,  

I see the parts of a woman; but if womanless

Can include me, then womanless like me too,

For a few months here—not in paradise of course,

But close enough—until you. Then nothing was close




The Alphabet Conspiracy is about the ways in which language itself can function as a plot, keeping us estranged from ourselves, but also about the way it can be used as a tool for recovering our truest selves.


To watch the original film strip, visit the Internet Archive. For a clip from it set to a United Boards of Canada tune, see below.

Join the Conspiracy! Send your snail mail address to ritamae.reese(at) and get a groovy postcard. Your info won’t be used for any other purposes or shared with anyone.


For more information about the book, see the  Press Release and the Author Interview.


Book Club? Workshop?

If your book club, poetry group or class is interested in reading The Alphabet Conspiracy, Rita Mae would be happy to answer questions and lead exercises by email, phone or chat. Contact her directly for more information. Here’s a brief Discussion Guide to get you started.