Creating Your Own Cult out of Poetry

Caitlin Maling

Jan 12, 2013

I watch a lot of ridiculous television. Normally of the very-attractive-young-people-pining-after-other-very-attractive-young-people type, with diversions along the way from people who think they can sing/dance/sew things, but are really just there for me to laugh at. Yet due to a sentiment hangover from the original Footloose, when I saw that Kevin Bacon was going to be appearing on my television weekly I decided to branch out. Hence, in what would become a journey into the deepest depths of incredulity and literary analysis of the basest type, I found myself being exposed to The Following. In it Bacon plays a retired FBI agent bought out of retirement to deal with a series of murders being orchestrated by the followers of a Poe scholar. I should have been prepared; after all it's only been a year since John Cusack played an attractive and energetic Poe, solving crimes based off his stories all while wearing a nifty hat. But I wasn't prepared. I wasn't prepared for there to be an actual cult, one where all the members had been brainwashed by one man's brilliant genius at½literary analysis? Essentially (spoiler alert!), the imprisoned serial-killing Poe scholar Professor Carroll seduces his followers with the following thesis on Poe's work: "The insanity of art is that it has to be felt," and apparently it can only be felt through orchestrating the death of beautiful women. Preferably by cutting out their eyeballs first, while wearing--and this is important--a rubber mask of Poe's face. Obviously, with this kind of brilliance in the antagonist, the FBI needs equally amazing literary analysis skills. Enter the head of the FBI cult division, a sassy, maybe too skinny brunette, who breaks it down for us in terms we Poe illiterates can understand:
Carroll's using Poe's work as a religion. He's speaking to people through Gothic Romanticism. The pathology of today's Internet techno-bred minds. He's created a new--a vacancy in our humanity. Find the ones with additional disorders--jackpot. Enter a handsome, charismatic man who can touch them, make them feel their lives for the first time. He conditions them. The only way to truly live is to kill.
There is some truth here. Listening to her say this, I truly did feel a vacancy in my humanity, right where the logic center of my brain had been. And what of Kevin Bacon? Is he up to the task of locating our renegade Poe cultists? You betcha! Upon entering a gruesome murder scene where the word NEVERMORE is scrawled on the walls in blood, Kevin knows exactly what to say: "'The Raven!'" he shouts out. "Poe is symbolizing the finality of death!" 
After I finished throwing things at the television, I did start to ask myself: what do I want my cult legacy as a writer to be? And which poets' work would make for the best cult inspiration? Obviously Marianne Moore has an advantage in having an established hat fashion; the Tricorns would make for a great cult name. Pound is pretty much already a supremacist, so there's not much left to do with him. Eliot is too boring½although the ending of "Little Gidding" has potential:
When the tongues of flame are in-folded Into the crowned knot of fire And the fire and the rose are one.
After all, nothing does quite say cult like a cleansing fire. Personally, I think the best bet would be the language poets. Their followers could say things like, "I rid you of your fleshy signifier," or "You are free of the structural paradigm of mortality!" as they killed you. Dear techno-bred readers, I'd like to know: which poets would you follow?