THE ALPHABET CONSPIRACY: Rita Mae Reese
About the Book
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 (published in The Sycamore Review) "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.
—Winner of the Paumanok Poetry Award and the Drake Emerging Writers Award.
Praise for The Alphabet Conspiracy
Reese's gift lies in her ability to swing the camera from the general and hyperbolic to the small yet satisfying details, leaving us with the lasting glow of beautiful imagery. The poet is able to make the reader enter her world, even sustaining interest throughout the poetic deconstruction of a single word, as in "Hunger."
—from a review in NewPages
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.
Rita Mae's work artfully addresses itself to the way children are taught to enter—and then become trapped by—a world constructed of language.
Rita Mae Reese's poems often begin with the alphabet, with meditations on the origins of words, with quirks and ticks of diction and lexicography. . . . Her poems are far-reaching, reflecting always on the divine, on the meaning of death, desire, and the afterlife, and on situations of true moral, often historical, complexity. These are expertly crafted, deeply moving poems.
To read this book is to read Whitman again, only it's a hundred and fifty years later, and he's a young woman this time. The Alphabet Conspiracy throbs with the lifeblood of democracy: all people are the same here, and all times, too. I love Rita Mae Reese for the sweetness of her lines, the calm optimism of her spirit.
This is a book of joy and grief where a lyric moment wakes the story and we see 'the light / inside of her breaking,' . . . . There is a sensuality here that is always 'ending a growl in the throat / of the wolf who knows your name.' And, therefore, there is wisdom. . . . Beautiful work.
Rita Mae Reese's The Alphabet Conspiracy is a passionate declaration of love for the world in all its sublimity, terror, and nuttiness. . . . Biblical in her embrace, Rita Mae Reese gives witness to what it is to be a woman living in her place in time. It is a beautiful collection.
'When God closes a door, we break a window,' Rita Mae Reese tells us in her poem, 'A History of Glass,' in this smart and moving debut collection. Reese reveals the lives of women and men—in her life and in history—with honesty, fluidity and grace, then takes us by the hand and leads us deeper into their struggles, their needs. Personal, yet expansive, these poems dance on the edge of a great sadness, but are always wise, and often full of astounding wit.
—Jesse Lee Kercheval