Among the documents recovered from Jonestown was a collection of six poems which captured many of the forces driving the members of Peoples Temple, ranging from an apostrophe to death, a hatred of “traitors,” a rejection of everything in American life – except its children – and even a celebration of plant life.
The identity of the poet is unknown, however. Only one of the poems has a date – the fall of 1969 – and a named author, but since the poem lauds Jim Jones in language which the Temple leader did not use elsewhere, the attribution of the work (and by extension, the other five poems) to the Temple leader himself is likely part of the poem itself. While the date itself could be part of the author’s poetic license as well, there is less reason to doubt that, especially given its contemporary articulation of the sentiments of many Temple members.
Whoever the anonymous poet was, however, that person was not alone in bringing this particular creative talent to Peoples Temple over the years. Among the other known poets:
- • Barbara Walker, a 25-year-old black woman at the time of her death in Jonestown, wrote two lengthy poems which reflected both the tension and the commitment to community which characterized much of the community’s last year.
• Garry Lambrev was the first person to join Peoples Temple after it migrated from Indianapolis to Ukiah in the mid-sixties, and left several times, only to rejoin again, before his final departure from the group before its departure from the United States. Lambrev reads some of his poetry on a tape recovered from Jonestown; some of his post-tragedy work, taken from his published collection Dogstar and Poems from Other Planets, appears on his page on this site.
• Teri Buford joined the Temple in 1971 and defected three weeks before the events of November 18, 1978. A life-long poet, Buford’s work includes a collection of poetry entitled Jonestown Lullaby, several selections from which appears on her page on this site.
• Laurie Efrein wrote Allegory – which she describes as a “prophetic artwork” – in 1974, among numerous other works of poetry and music.