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This Recently Expanded Poetry Collection Touches on the Ambivalence of Being Queer in Florida

I’m still learning how to be queer in Florida. But ifFlorida Man: Poems, Revisited by Tyler Gillespie is any indication, perhaps I always will be.

Gillespie originally published his poetry collection Florida Man in 2018, and the Florida-based small press Burrow Press (publisher of my novelette as well) recently re-released the book with 20 new poems all oriented around the original themes and motifs. With the title, Gillespie cheekily embraces and reclaims Florida Man lore, injecting it with his own family stories, playful lyricism, and queer as fuck poems. “Florida Man” as a concept itself is an attempt to dehumanize Floridians and make a farce out of Florida. This has been written about a lot lately — by my wife, third generation Floridian Kristen Arnett, in fact. Gillespie’s poems put the humanity into Florida Man, imagining beyond the headlines and beyond outside perceptions of this place, a place where I’m admittedly a transplant but have intentions of staying for a while.

Despite the collection’s humor and bounciness (“THE SKY IS GAY. I DON’T MAKE THE RULES” one poem’s title declares), there’s danger and pain in these poems, too. Climate crisis seeps into the lines. Gillespie, a queer fifth generation Floridian, confronts the racism embedded in his home state and in his family. There are no attempts to romanticize or explain away the violence of this place. Quite the contrary, the poems look directly at the bad parts, injecting lyricism in ways that don’t diminish or obscure hard truths.

The collection is at its best when contending with the complexity and lushness of queerness. Florida —and the South more broadly —is a very queer place, even if the ruling class is trying to erase us. Queer joy abounds in the pages of Florida Man, such as in these lines excerpted from “ON A DANCEFLOOR IN FL”:

On a Dancefloor in FL
           we wrap arms around

chosen family. DJ plays
           Robyn’s “Dancing on My

Own.” Yell: This is our song.
           Years before we’d seen Robyn

live in a downtown Orlando club 
           when she toured Body Talk

(thank gay god for that album).
           You always took pop so seriously.

“I DIDN’T WANT TO WRITE ANOTHER POLITICAL POEM” is a standout in the collection, mired in the push and pull of needing to make art that is political but also personal, art that fights a narrative while creating its own. To be Florida poems, which these are, means to not exist in a vacuum or in a fantasy version of this land but in the reality of it, and its reality right now is repeating history while also trying to rewrite it. The expansion of Florida Man confronts this in real time.

I’m still learning how to be queer in Florida, and I think some people may hear or read that and think it’s a wholly bad thing, like I’m referring to having to diminish or obscure my queerness in certain contexts, and that is true sometimes. But I mean it in an ambivalent way, too, much like the poems of Florida Man. Recently, I wrote my love of Florida into my wedding vows, because my love of this place is all tied up in my love for my wife. There’s a deep and complicated love for Florida in this poetry collection. You don’t have to be from or live in Florida to connect with those messages. Home and lineage are often complicated no matter where you’re from, especially for queer people.

Florida Man: Poems, Revisited by Tyler Gillespie is out now.

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Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya

Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya is the managing editor of Autostraddle and a lesbian writer of essays, short stories, and pop culture criticism living in Orlando. She is the assistant managing editor of TriQuarterly, and her short stories appear or are forthcoming in McSweeney's Quarterly Concern, Joyland, Catapult, The Offing, and more. Some of her pop culture writing can be found at The A.V. Club, Vulture, The Cut, and others. You can follow her on Twitter or Instagram and learn more about her work on her website.

Kayla has written 810 articles for us.

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