’Florida Man: Poems’ is non-fiction poetry inspired by the viral Florida phenomenon

The cover art for "Florida Man: Poems" and a photo of writer Tyler Gillespie. [Michael Burke / Elizabeth Lynch]
The cover art for "Florida Man: Poems" and a photo of writer Tyler Gillespie. [Michael Burke / Elizabeth Lynch]
Published June 7 2018
Updated June 7 2018

Tyler Gillespie describes himself in his Twitter bio as a “pale Floridian + reporter,” but says he’s not a “Florida Man,” capital F, capital M.

“No, I think ‘Florida Man’ means someone publicly shamed and unable to tell their story. They’ve been arrested, not at their best moment, and there’s a big power imbalance,” Gillespie, 31, told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now do I have things that could have landed me there? Sure, and that’s something I write about.”

It’s true — one poem in his forthcoming book Florida Man: Poems, coming out June 15, is adapted from his own 2005 DUI arrest affidavit.

Some poems, such as Year of Headlines on @_FloridaMan Twitter Account (381,000 Followers), which features dozens of headlines such as “Florida man seen jumping off bridge with stolen sausages,” are meditations on the viral Florida Man media phenomenon, and others, like Taxonomy of Headlines on @_FloridaMan Twitter Account (381,000 Followers), humanize the subjects of those stories.

Gillespie, who has been sober seven years this month, is a freelance journalist who’s been published by GQ and Rolling Stone. He recently finished a master’s degree in journalism and media studies from the University of South Florida St. Petersburg and currently teaches at both the St. Pete and Tampa campuses.

Florida Man: Poems, he said, began as a book of essays he wanted to write about what happens to someone after they go viral for a weird, Florida crime. When he returned to the Tampa Bay area after a few years living out of state, he decided to take a poetic approach.

There are personal stories, such as Gillespie’s first time seeing a drag queen after sneaking underage into a Tampa nightclub, and so many alligators — mating, fighting pythons and being sold as taxidermy heads in gas stations. All of it drips with Floridiana.

Gillespie described the book as non-fiction, based on either his own lived experiences, reporting or research, creating a hybrid of poetry and journalism. One poem is described in the book as “from a police officer ride-along in Pinellas county,” another is “from a day at the Pinellas County courthouse.”

The poem Gator Clan, which appears in the book and is excerpted below, was adapted from his reporting on old-school Florida alligator attractions for Vice.

Gillespie will be doing a reading from the book during Wordier Than Thou’s Pride Edition Lit Crawl event, a “literary pub crawl” celebrating the region’s LGBTQ writers, on June 16. More details on that event are here.

Florida Man: Poems is available to pre-order from Red Flag Poetry here.

Gator Clan

Before South Florida tribal pow wow Billy Walker

explains: alligator wrestling started with

his people. Mid-19th century the US forced Seminoles

& Miccosukee from North Florida to an Everglades

thought uninhabitable. They adapted land hunted

alligators to eat. Four generations lived in camp of huts.

They cooked on highest ground to protect food from

mosquitoes. Elders & young men caught turtles & gators

kept them in pit for food then traded hides in coastal areas.

Gator still moved like lizard with tail cut off.

“They said if you eat too much of it like that your

muscles will throb” says Walker “so we asked permission

from gator clan to kill it.” Clans: mother’s side carried

by sons. “After the Wars we went down to eight

in the US.” Panther otter bear deer bird snake & Big Town

but alligator clan got lost to Wars. “My grandpa told me

the settler – the tourist – went by Indian village & saw him

messing with the gator.” These tourists thought he was

wrestling the gator which he wasn’t. “It changed our world”

says Walker “the tourists started to throw money at us.”