Cults, Conspiracies, and Paranoia

Poems about cults, conspiracies, and paranoia


(Cults, Conspiracies, and Paranoia playlist) **Art: Inventions of the Monsters by Salvador Dali, 1937 (source)

“Charisma: A Fiction” by Ai Ogawa (Florence Anthony) (1947-2010; Albany, Texas, US; professor) – from Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women

I didn’t just read the Bible, I lived it.
I told my people, this is revolution.
I said, I interpret this attack
on my constitutional rights
with a gun and a guitar
to mean we are in trouble.
I held up a hand grenade, pulling the pin
and told them, “This one’s for Jesus.”
I prayed, “Lord, take me to heaven, take me today
and I won’t falter on the way.”
Did my people desert me,
did they say this man is crazy?
No, they didn’t.
They prayed with me.
They lay facedown in Waco, Texas,
to await death and resurrection,
as it came from all directions, all in flames. (…)

“A Poe Story” by Anthony Butts (b. 1969; Detroit, Michigan; professor)
– from American Poetry: The Next Generation

[This poem may be referencing Edgar Allan Poe’s “Sonnet to Science”]

Three a.m smoke rises from underground
gas lines, the hissing louder than the murmurs
of pigeons, louder than the white winter
clouds passing, heavy with the burden of snow,
nothing released here in Kalamazoo,
neither snow, nor rain, nor any item
dropped from the clenched purse of a woman walking
to her car, footsteps growing louder, quickening
as she spots me walking toward her, toward
the computer center, open twenty-four hours
for people like me, her car between us, gun metal
gray (…)

“Thinking American” by Hayan Charara (b. 1972; Detroit, Michigan; anthologist, essayist, literary editor, children’s book writer, professor) – from Present/Tense: Poets in the World

Take Detroit, where boys
are manufactured into men, where
you learn to think in American.
You speak to no one unless someone
speaks to you. Everyone is suspect:
baldheaded carriers from the post office;
old Polish ladies who swear
to Jesus, Joseph, and Mary;
your brother, especially your brother,
waiting in a long line for work.
There’s always a flip side.
No matter what happens,
tomorrow is a day away,
or a gin bottle if you can’t sleep,
and if you stopped drinking,
a pack of cigarettes. (…)

“The Boy and the Girl” by Todd Colby (Austin, Minnesota; poetry workshop teacher, anthology editor, musician) – from Heights of the Marvelous: a New York Anthology

1. The boy and the girl loved each other very much. They saw the world in a very similar way so they didn’t have to do too much extraneous translating or explaining to each other about what they saw or felt. They could take certain things for granted because they spoke the same language. They were not morons. They loved each other so much that they quit their jobs and hired people to do the things that they could no longer be bothered to do. They paid their bills on time and took great pleasure in watching the workers do the jobs that they had done under great duress, only months before. At the orientation meeting for the workers the boy and girl instructed them to clap together on the count of three. They called this the “We’re-All-One-Clap” because they didn’t want any of the workers to be alienated by the exclusivity of their love for each other. (…)

“The Dishonest Mailmen” by Robert Creeley (1926-2005; Arlington, Massachusetts, US; poetry professor; Black Mountain poets, Modernist / Post-Modernist)
– from The Oxford Book of American Poetry

They are taking all my letters, and they put them into a fire.
I see the flames, etc.
But do not care, etc.
They burn everything I have, or what little
I have. I don’t care, etc.
The poem supreme, addressed to
emptiness—this is the courage
necessary. This is something
quite different.

“Perhaps the rain on the roof is some hyper-phrenetic code from Shadowland” by Skip Fox (Louisiana, US) – from Another South: Experimental Writing in the South

Perhaps the rain on the roof is some hyper-phrenetic code from Shadowland, Morse on windowpane cut with belladonna, my beautiful woman in weeds where the rain also sings lightly or does it pour. Be with me now and in the hour or morning which seems so dissimilar, estranged, from any other hour, sotto voce, looking out the sides where edges in, the vast proportion of everything other wise when the rain so comes or does it end (…)

“Fragging” by Yusef Komunyakaa (b. 1941; Bogalusa, Louisiana, US; professor, veteran of the Vietnam war) – from American Alphabets: 25 Contemporary Poets

Five men pull straws
under a tree on a hillside.
Damp smoke & mist halo them
as they single out each other,
pretending they’re not there.
“We won’t be wasting a real man.
That lieutenant’s too gung-ho.
Think, man ‘bout how Turk
got blown away; next time
it’s you or me. Hell
the truth is the truth.” (…) Mckellen and Robert Eddison in The Prospect Theatre Company’s 1970 adaptation of Edward II, written by Christopher Marlowe (Cambridge, England) (source)

“My father is deceas’d. Come Gaveston” from the play Edward II by Christopher Marlowe (1564-1593; Canterbury, England; playwright) – from The Columbia Anthology of Gay Literature

Act I, Sc. 1: Enter GAVESTON, reading a letter that was brought him from the KING

GAVESTON:  “My father is deceas’d! Come, Gaveston,
And share the kingdom with thy dearest friend,”
Ah! words that make me surfeit with delight!
What greater bliss can hap to Gaveston
Than live and be the favourite of a king!
Sweet prince, I come; these, these thy amorous lines
Might have enforc’d me to have swum from France,
And, like Leander, gasp’d upon the sand,
So thou would’st smile, and take me in thine arms.
The sight of London to my exil’d eyes
Is as Elysium to a new-come soul;
Not that I love the city, or the men,
But that it harbours him I hold so dear—
The king, upon whose bosom let me die,
And with the world be still at enmity.
What need the arctic people love starlight,
To whom the sun shines both by day and night?
Farewell base stooping to the lordly peers!
My knee shall bow to none but to the king.
As for the multitude, that are but sparks,
Rak’d up in embers of their poverty;—
Tanti; I’ll fawn first on the wind
That glanceth at my lips, and flieth away.

{see also: “Ah, wicked King! Accursed Gaveston”
“Here is the form of Gaveston’s exile”

“I Am Not a Conspiracy Everything Is Not Paranoid The Drug Enforcement Administration Is Not Everywhere” by Susan Musgrave (b. 1951; Santa Cruz, California, US; novelist, memoirist, children’s book-writer, anthologist) – from The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry

Paul comes from Toronto on Sunday
to photograph me here in my
new image. We drive to a cornfield
where I stand looking uncomfortable.
The corn-god has an Irish accent—
I can hear him whispering, “Whiskey!”

And the cows. They, too, are in the
corn, entranced like figures in effigy.
Last summer in Mexico I saw purses at the
market made from unborn calfskin—
I’ve been wondering where they came from
ever since, the soft skins I ran my hands
down over, that made me feel like shuddering.

I was wrong. The corn-god is whispering
“Cocaine!” He is not Irish, after all,
but D.E.A. wanting to do business. He
demands to know the names of all my friends,
wants me to tell him who’s dealing. (…)

“Paranoia” by Leonard Nolens (Leon Helena Sylvain Nolens) (1947; Bree, Belgium; diarist) [tr. Michael O’Loughlin]
– from Turning Tides: Modern Dutch and Flemish Verse in English Versions by Irish Poets

Ze zeggen dat dichters hun tong in bedwang moeten houden.
Zij, dat zijn die modejournalisten die mijn kleren kraken
En morgen mijn ontwerpen dragen. Dat zijn die keukenmeesters
Die souperen van mijn vlees en in mijn pannen spuwen.
Dat zijn die onkruidverdelgers en dode dokters van de poëzie.
Maar wie heeft de naakten gekleed, de hongerigen gespijsd?

Nee, mijn door de wol geverfde tong van jullie is ook van mij
En wat ze doet is nu eenmaal vaak pathetisch gedacht.
Jullie metrische colbertjes en rijmbroeken, daar pas ik voor.
Jullie zoutloze sonnettenfoto’s, nee, pardon, merci.

They say that poets should keep their tongue in check.
They, they are the fashion journalists who slate my clothes
And tomorrow wear my designs. They are the kitchen inspectors
Who sup on my flesh and spit in my pans.
They are the weed killers and dead doctors of poetry.
But who has clothed the naked and fed the hungry?

No, the tongue you have stained on your slides is also mine
And what is you is actually pretty pathetic.
Your metrical jackets and rhyming britches, count me out.
Your salt-free sonnet snapshots, excuse me, no, merci. (…)

“Children of the Future” by Jalaluddin Mansur Nuriddin (b. 1944; Brooklyn, New York, US; spoken word and hip-hop artist; The Last Poets group)
– from Spirit & Flame: An Anthology of Contemporary African American Poetry

Now the children of the future tried to come to terms
with the industrialized nations and their corporate firms

To decontaminate the planet and meet their demands
detoxify the oceans, rivers, lakes, and lands

Purify the air, get rid of nuclear waste
put it on a rocket ship and send it into space

Tone down, bone down, hone down hatred
‘til love for the Most High’s creation was sacred

Rectify, recompense, reevaluation
clarify, satisfy the present situation

Spiritualize, realize, crystallize aspirations
recognize, stabilize the unity of nations (…)

“Noon Walk on the Asylum Lawn” by Anne Sexton (1928-1974; Newton, Massachusetts, US; fiction and children’s book writer; confessional verse)
– from The Oxford Book of Garden Verse

The summer sun ray
shifts through a suspicious tree.
though I walk through the valley of the shadow
It sucks the air
and looks around for me.

The grass speaks.
I hear green chanting all day.
I will fear no evil, fear no evil
The blades extend
and reach my way.

The sky breaks.
It sags and breathes upon my face.
In the presence of mine enemies, mine enemies
The world is full of enemies.
There is no safe place.

“Conspiracy” by Jack Spicer (1925-1965; Los Angeles, California, US; linguist researcher, lecturer, poetry workshop teacher; San Francisco Renaissance, Avant-Garde)
– from California Poetry: From the Gold Rush to the Present

A violin which is following me

In how many distant cities are they listening
To its slack-jawed music? This
Slack-jawed music?
Each of ten thousand people playing it.

It follows me like someone that hates me. (…)

“The Tunnel” by Mark Strand (1934-2014; Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada; novelist, essayist, latin languages translator, anthologist)
– from The Heath Introduction to Poetry

A man has been standing
in front of my house
for days. I peek at him
from the living room
window and at night,
unable to sleep,
I shine my flashlight
down on the lawn.
He is always there.

After a while
I open the front door
just a crack and order
him out of my yard.
He narrows his eyes
and moans. I slam
the door and dash back
to the kitchen, then up
to the bedroom, then down. (…)

“Hang up a yellow shirt—you cause joy” from Blackout by John Ernest Tranter (b. 1943; radio programmer, literary magazine publisher and editor, anthologist)
– from Vanishing Points: New Modernist Poems

Hang up a yellow shirt – you cause joy;
our escape is common; every day, some wife
masters our theme of preservation,
millions speak like us.

The visitor, he will strike the entertainer.
A dollar comes to him, you have taken his tongue,
the old laughter, though
that tawny eye of green misses

the truth totally, it was crazy, a kind of power. (…)

“What We Believe” by Charles Harper Webb (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, US; professor, psychotherapist, anthologist)
– from Vespers: Contemporary American Poems of Religion and Spirituality

Jesus was not the Son of God. He was a yogi
who tranced out on the cross – a fanatic like Jim
Jones or David Koresh, with better publicity.

President Kennedy was killed by the Cubans,
the Russians, the C.I.A.; Lee Harvey Oswald
was paid to take the fall. A group of evil

scientists created AIDS to wipe out Blacks,
dope addicts, homosexuals. Drug companies
quash cures to keep their profits high. (…)

“Sybil” by Rebecca Wolff (b. 1967; New York, US; editor and creator of Fence Magazine, novelist) – from Legitimate Dangers: American Poets of the New Century

1. These are the vague demands you make on me

2. (that I) assemble
(to) recollect
(to) decode
( ) associate

3. that I admit, fraught with difficulty, reintegration
is no day at the beach in eggshell tints
“The inmates start to get grave and a little crazy”
when they hear that friendly voice—the matron. (…)

“I Was Very Prolific” by Suzanne Wise (b. 1965; Rutland, Vermont, US; creative writing professor, events planner for Small Press Distribution)
– from American Poetry: The Next Generation

Legislators say they want women to have second thoughts.
—headline from The New York Times, January 28, 1998
I was very prolific in my generating qualities.
I was sprouting here and there.
They said I was developing.
They said my heterosexual adjustment
was quantitatively well above average.
Of course, they said, there is always the possibility
she won’t cooperate. But I did my best to acclimate.
I said to them: Just don’t rip my nylons.
I said to myself: This is not my self.
Afterward, no matter how much I gargled
or apologized, I couldn’t get that force field
out of my head: it sucked and dragged.
It depleted most of the memory banks,
then installed my functions in the outskirts
of a category called unknown or other. (…)

“I Eat Lunch with a Schizophrenic” by Laurel Ann Bogen
“In the Compound” by Albert Huffstickler
“A Paranoid Egotist” by Dan Nielsen

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