Poetry of Teri Buford O’Shea

One constant in the life of Teri O’Shea was her love for poetry. She began writing poetry herself at age seven, calling the local public library to ask where she could get a “poetic license.” Poets who influenced her include James Agee, Audre Lorde, Fay Chiang, and Philip Levine.

Teri earned her B.A. in Journalism from the University of California at Berkeley. While in college, she joined Peoples Temple, drawn in by her youthful idealism and vision of a better society. She was in the Temple for seven years until her defection three weeks before the massacre.

Teri’s work explored the aftermath of survival: guilt, fear, grief, forgiveness, and the constant search for meaning and new beginnings. She found inspiration in the lives of other survivors, whether they have survived war, the Holocaust, abuse, cancer, chronic illness or other life-altering experiences. Her poetry moved beyond survival to express the universality and complexity of human experience.

A volume of her collected poetry, Jonestown Lullaby, was published in 2011. A promotional video for the book appears here. An 2012 update on the book appears here.

Her poetry also appeared in such publications as Silkworm (2010), Wellstone (2010), Disciples World (2009) and Compose. Change (2007).

“Drinking the Kool-Aid: A Survivor Remembers Jim Jones” is a 2011 interview with Teri in The Atlantic.

Teri died on November 28, 2018. She was 66. A remembrance by Fielding McGehee is here.

Picture (2011; published 2022)

Revolution 78 (2016)

Transformation Song (2012)

Two Poems (2012)

I Do Not Love You (2011)

Deitrick (2011)

Homecoming (2011)

I Write (2011)

Survivors’ Rights (2010)

Fiction of Presence (2010)

Reflection (2009)

Three Poems (2008)

Jonestown Survivor 9 (2007)

Teri’s daughter, Vita Thais O’Shea, contributed the article, An introduction to my mother (2009).