Rita Mae Reese
After changing majors every semester, Rita Mae Reese dropped out of college and went to work for a lesbian press. After working there for nearly seven years, a visiting author inspired her to go back to school full-time. She earned a BA in American Studies and an MA in Creative Writing at Florida State University and then an MFA at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. While pursuing her MFA, she worked at the Dictionary of American Regional English and immersed herself in the online edition of the Oxford English Dictionary where she began to find poetry in etymology. She began writing many of the poems that eventually formed The Alphabet Conspiracy.
Rita Mae has received a Rona Jaffe Foundation Writers’ Award, a Stegner fellowship, and a ‘Discovery’/The Nation award. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and has appeared in journals and anthologies including The Normal School, Imaginative Writing, From Where You Dream, Blackbird, New England Review, The Southern Review, and The Nation.
She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her family.
The Alphabet Conspiracy
Rita Mae Reese
Publication Date: February 1, 2011
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.