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.
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.
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.
Bonus: The original film strip can be seen in its glorious entirety on the Internet Archive.
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