Interview with Tyler Gillespie, Author of “Florida Man: Poems”

“Florida Man stories often go viral for their weirdness such as “Florida Man Arrested for Drunk Dialing 911 When He Wanted Vodka,” but there’s more to him than a punchline, which Tyler Gillespie breaks down through an exploration of his home state’s history, landscape, and his own recovery from substance abuse.
In the tradition of C.D. Wright, Gillespie — a reporter for national publications — utilizes journalistic techniques in an innovative nonfiction hybrid that merges poetic sound and form in pieces that range from alligator anatomy to Southern heritage to growing up gay in a Christian school. As Gillespie writes, Florida is not only a vacation spot or a retirement destination but an ideal state for “A country full of people // who would spend their last / chance on a dream & a plot / their happy ending.”
Tyler Gillespie is an award-winning journalist who’s written for Rolling Stone, The Guardian, VICE, GQ, Playboy, and Salon. His poems recently appeared in Hobart, Prelude, Tahoma Literary Review, Cleaver, and Exposition Review.
He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of New Orleans and is in-progress for an MA in Journalism & Media Studies from the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg. He currently lives in Largo, FL.”
– Press Release by Red Flag Poetry

 

Interview:

1. So, Tyler, your book is coming out soon – what should potential readers know when they see Florida Man: Poems?

 The book uses the virality of the Florida Man meme — someone who’s gotten arrested for doing something bone-headed — to look at the state’s history, environment, and economics to see how they affect the country as a whole. Also, there’s partying, drag queens, and a lot about alligators in there — from anatomy to mating habits to the process of how their heads are sold in gas stations.

2. Your book has an interesting form, not only does it merge the Non-fiction and Poetry genres, but it also is constructing the picture of this entity, “Florida Man,” can you tell us a little bit about the decisions you made and the inspiration behind crafting your book using these elements?

The form came from wanting to mix actual stories from different points of view to get a fuller picture. I didn’t write any persona poems. Anything from someone else’s point of view is in that person’s words. I’ve been a journalist for about eight years. I kind of have a slow-burn style in interviews where it’s a conversation more than an interview. I like doing these long interviews, because I’m often surprised by what people tell me. They’ll tell me these really beautiful or ugly or illegal stories and for an article or essay I’d condense a quote or write around it. In a poem I can let all their words speak for themselves. It’s contained. The poem’s its own complete thing.

3. Why did you choose to write this book?

 I think in some ways writers are writing their way back home. I wanted to contextualize my experience and give a perspective on Florida. There’s a lot of interest in the state because of our environment, politics, vacations, and crimes. People spend their lives elsewhere and end up here, too. They want to know what’s up.

4. What do you want your readers to take away from reading your book?

 Florida is so many different things to so many different people. To me, it’s like a python: dangerously beautiful, misunderstood, pretty chill, can be deadly but it’s usually not. There’s no one Florida or one Florida Man. He’s a composite of a bunch of different people who have committed a crime. These poems, when put together, make up a version of the Florida Man narrative that I understand right now. His history is complicated just like ours.

5. Were you inspired by any other authors or any specific works?

A book that changed how I think about poetry is C.D. Wright’s One Big Self. Sheshe mixes in interviews — or conversations — she had with prisoners in Louisiana throughout it. That book, wow. I hadn’t read anyone that did this blend before, so the form helped me see a new path.

6. Tell us about the work you put into interviewing the people in your book.

One of my favorite interviews included in the book happened down in the Everglades. There’s this place where people wrestle rescued gators — the nuisance gators over four foot long have to be either killed or rescued. I went down to the Everglades, rode around on an airboat for a while, and talked to a second-generation alligator wrestler turned businessman. There’s a method to the madness. He told me about how he’d done it as a kid, how it had helped him become who he is. Then, I watched someone wrestle a gator. It was fun.

7. What’s the next project you’re working on?

I’m working on a book of poems about climate change and romantic relationships, which, you know, for some people are both major disasters. I’m also working on a collection of reported-but-humorous essays on Florida. It’s in the same vein as this book but follows a different thread, more focused on the environment and culture. So far, I’ve talked to a notorious pet smuggler and python hunters among a bunch of other people.

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Non-Fiction Spring 2018 Winner

Tuna Melt with a Side of Grief
by L.D. Zane

“Twenty-three-ninety-five for the buffet! Are they kidding?” I asked Grace.

“That’s what the sign says, Lewis. And that’s the senior price!” she responded with despair.

“For a Christmas Day buffet at the West End Family Restaurant?” I turned toward Grace and asked, “Did they say anything about the price online?”

“Nope,” responded Grace. “Just said they would be open Christmas Day and would have a special buffet. I figured that was good enough for us.”

“Well, they’d better be serving caviar for this price.”

“I suppose they’re just catering to their normal clientele, Lewis. They obviously can afford these prices.”

So could we, but it was the principle of the matter. We both stood in the cold staring at that sign as others walked around us to enter.

Finally, I capitulated. “Well… We’re here, and there’s no other place open.”

“There’s always Antonio’s,” Grace offered up.

Despondent, I replied, “Yeah, but that’s on the other side of town and you needed reservations—which we don’t have.” With a resigned sigh and slumped shoulders, I said, “Not the way I wanted us to spend our first Christmas together, Grace.” Grace reached out and held my hand. Then I said, “Let’s just do this.”

 

The waitress showed us to our booth. After she took our beverage order, we perused the menu.

“What the hell!” I spouted off, and not quietly. There was a couple in the booth across from us who appeared to be about our age. They looked up from their meals.  “Sorry,” I said sheepishly.

I lowered my voice and said to Grace, “The only thing different on the buffet is they added chopped steak. And for this they more than doubled the usual buffet price? Well, that’s absurd. I’m not getting the buffet. For the price of the buffet, we could have had a great dinner at Antonio’s. I’m just going to order off the menu.”

“I don’t want to add insult to injury,” Grace said nonchalantly, “but it looks as if they raised the prices on all the menu items by about fifty percent. They know when they have a captive audience of helpless saps with no other place to go on Christmas—other than Antonio’s or some Chinese restaurant.”

The waitress came back with our coffee and water. “Have you decided on your order?”

“I can tell you it’s not going to be the buffet,” I said with righteous indignation.

The waitress whispered, “That’s what most of the other customers decided as well. You’re better off ordering from the menu.”

“And that’s still a rip-off!” Grace chimed in.

The waitress ignored that sling and again asked, “Ma’am. What are you having?”

Without looking up from the menu, Grace said, with sarcasm dripping from the corners of her mouth, “I’ll have the tuna melt with a side of grief.”

The waitress responded with equal pithiness, “I’m sorry, but that side is not on the menu. You can either have mashed rustic potatoes, french fries, baked potato, cole slaw or mixed veggies.” And then she asked with a wry smile, “Which one would you like to replace the grief?”

Grace looked up, mirrored her smile and answered, “Just give me the fries, and please make sure they’re crispy.”

There was no response from our waitress other than, “And for you, sir?”

“I’ll have the open-faced, hot roast beef sandwich with a baked potato as my side. I’m in a better mood.”

“Absolutely.” She collected the menus and said, “Your orders will be out shortly.” My only thought was, with certain smugness, I wonder whose food they’ll spit on? Shouldn’t be mine. I was nice to her.

Grace was now staring into her coffee. So I sucked it up and asked, “What’s wrong, Grace? Is it Joel’s decision to disinvite you for Christmas?”

 

About a week and a half before Christmas, Grace received a text from her daughter-in-law, Bernadette, Joel’s wife. Without saying a word, Grace showed it to me when I came home from work and after I had settled into my favorite chair. It read like a telegram: “No need to come here for Christmas. We’re just hanging out. Going to my parents Christmas Eve. That’s all. See you at Alicia’s next week.” No “Merry Christmas.” No real explanation. But we both knew it was in retaliation for a text spat Grace had had with Joel the week before Thanksgiving about not being invited to any of Joel’s son’s football games.

For the eight years between Grace’s husband’s death and our recent marriage, she had spent every Christmas at Joel’s. It was her last tradition. And now it was gone. That text broke Grace’s heart, and mine. It also lit her fuse.

Then I read Grace’s reply text to Bernadette: “I understand. But I have to be honest, I’m very disappointed. For the first time I won’t be with any of my family on Christmas. I’ll hold yours and the boys’ gifts until we see you at Alicia’s. Enjoy the visit with your parents. Merry Christmas.”

Grace’s text was akin to a declaration of war. It might as well have said, “I hope you choke on the food at your parents’, and that you and Joel get paper cuts from opening up your gifts! My misery is on your hands.”

Foolish me. I thought only Jewish mothers knew how to dish out guilt. They may have invented it, but Catholic mothers have obviously learned well from their mentors over the millennia.

The night after Grace sent her reply, she received a call from Joel. Mercifully, I was at work. I learned that Joel started off by saying to Grace that Bernadette told him, after she showed him Grace’s response, “You had better call your mother.” And that he did.

He proceeded to rip into Grace about everything that had been gnawing at him about his mother. She returned fire. There didn’t appear to be any winners. In fact, I’m surprised there were any survivors. Grace didn’t convey to me the gory details, and I thought it best not to press her for any.

 

Grace narrowed her gaze at me and raised her voice. “Disinvite us, Lewis! And he didn’t have the balls to call or text me first. Instead he had Bernadette do his dirty work.” A melancholy shadowed her eyes. “And did you notice they didn’t even send us a card or call us today? Alicia, Albert, and their boys did.”

I did notice, but didn’t feel the need to concur with the obvious.

She paused momentarily, then said, “But that’s not what’s really bothering me.”

“Then what’s really bothering you, Grace?”

She took a deep breath and sighed. “Joel said, during that nasty call I had with him, that since he was seeing me at Alicia’s the weekend after Christmas, there was no need to see me twice in a week.” She grabbed her napkin, dabbed her eyes, and then grabbed mine and blew her nose. I made a mental note to have the waitress bring us more napkins.

“What did you say back to him?”

“Nothing. That’s when I hung up.”

Now I was pissed. I like Joel. He’s an affable guy with a good sense of humor. And from what I’ve personally seen, he appears to be a good father, husband, and provider. I pondered how I would have reacted had one of my children laid that at my feet.

I reached over, held Grace’s hands, and said, “You know it’s not my style to interfere on matters with your kids, sweetheart. But do you want to know how I would have responded?”

“Yes, please.”

“I would have calmly said, ‘I’m sorry, Joel, but I didn’t know there was a FUCKING QUOTA!’”

That got the attention, again, of the couple across from us, along with some of the other customers within earshot. This time, however, I didn’t apologize.

Grace burst out laughing. “That was good, Lewis. I wish I had thought of that.” But quickly, she once again turned gloomy.

I made an attempt at being jolly and asked, “Hey, what about all that Christmas spirit you’ve been lecturing me about?”

Grace snapped back, “Shut up! This is the most depressing time of the year.”

Hanukkah was never like this. My only retort was, “Here comes our delicious, overpriced meal.”

 

The next morning at eight I took my usual mile-plus walk. I returned around eight-thirty. Grace was already up, sitting on the couch, and nursing her first cup of coffee and a cigarette. I grabbed a cup of coffee, plunked myself into my favorite chair, and slipped off my sneakers.

Something seemed different as I scanned the room. And then in a flash of brilliance, I figured out what it was. Grace had taken down all of the Christmas cards and put away our fake, ornament-laden, assembly-required Christmas tree. I cautiously asked, “Grace, where are all the Christmas cards and the tree?”

“Christmas is over, Lewis. Christmas is over.”

THE END

2017 Fall Poetry Winner “Deployed” by David Colodney

Enderssaints
Before becoming a writer, David Colodney was a fetus and, prior to that, an embryo. David realized at an early age that he had no athletic ability whatsoever, so he turned his attention to writing about sports instead of playing them, covering everything from high school flag football to major league baseball for The Tampa Tribune and The Miami Herald. David holds an MA from Nova Southeastern University and an MFA from Converse College, where he served as poetry editor of the South 85 literary magazine. He was recently nominated for Best New Poets and was a finalist for the 2017 DISQUIET International Prize for Poetry. His work has appeared or will appear in St. Petersburg Review, South Carolina Review, California Quarterly, Shot Glass Journal, and Gyroscope Review, among others. David lives in Boynton Beach, Florida with his wife, three sons, and golden retriever.

Deployed
Your bedroom clock scatters us in minutes.
You rattle off random tasks                  chores
before departure:         physicals           basic
training               storage           lease-breaking.
You already speak staccato
like your drill sergeant, hollow
broken syllables.           Standing at attention
we survey these blank walls
pretending:      diminished breaths
an open window.           A lonely cloud burst
blurs your orders         clutched in spastic hands
tearstains         drain white paper gray.
I see through the folded print                an x-ray.
If I touch that letter, it means you’re leaving,
so I let angular words                dangle.
In this minute, there’s no changing you.
In this room, we live a moment
we don’t understand:                your bedroom clock
spins time faster            as you ship out to serve
               decaying America.
Young soldier, if your country loomed as large as your heart
beating under camouflage       last name         embroidered,
flag emblazoned                         if only                your country
                            appreciated.
In this minute, I don’t know:                  salute you
or hug you so tight
you never go.

2017 Poetry Contest, Honorable Mention: “Schrödinger’s cat is purring” by Richard Weiser

We’re happy to announce “Schrodinger’s cat is purring” by Richard Weiser as an Honorable Mention in our 2017 Poetry Contest! A special thank you to our poetry staff for their diligent work!

Schrödinger’s cat is purring

All cats love boxes,
hop in when they can,
peeking out mischievously,
paddling their paws against
cardboard walls.

Maybe they know,
as we strive toward goals,
balance is quantum perfection,
a golden meanwhile
inhabitable to those
who poise on fences,
and stare, luminous-eyed,
into the now.

Richard Weiser is a musician and playwright. His work has been produced at The Toronto Fringe Festival. He’s written ads for almost 20 years and recently won a Cannes Lion (advertising’s version of the Oscar). Richard studied creative writing at York University with Don Coles and Robert Casto. He’s written a biography of the Canadian painter Tom Thomson (unpublished) and is working on a novel set during the First Crusade.

Poetry Spring 2017, Fourth Place: “Colonial Composition” by Brett Salsbury

We received an extraordinary number of amazing submission for our first poetry contest of the year, and it took much hard work from our poetry staff to make the final decisions. Congratulations to Brett Salsbury for taking fourth place in the Spring Poetry Contest of 2017! 

 

Colonial Composition

With that, I accomplish a great, basic stitch.
Only a BIC lighter can undo it     maybe
a match.

Layered quite nicely with roots         yes,
this originally resulted in yucca.

Hemp could be used, or the heart
of banana leaf      tie it tightly
and wear it, cook it.

Paint or beat only your mug.
Stop it               this isn’t your language.
or art.

Pay heed to the tension, the paleness
of your face             this may take years.

All I can promise is a gift, a form
right there if you take it—

but be wary of using too many words.

 

Brett Salsbury is a goat. Originally from Kansas, he now roams the neon-lit lands of the Las Vegas Valley after finishing his MFA at UNLV. He also guides tours of a retired casino sign collection. His work has appeared in Words Dance Publishing, Foothill, Fourculture, GTK Creative, and Posit.