Poet and EMU Lecturer Andre F. Peltier Imagines New Contexts for Pop Culture Icons in Recent Chapbook, “Poplandia”


The "Poplandia" chapbook and poet Andre Peltier

Part tribute, part humor, and part elegy, the new chapbook Poplandia by Andre F. Peltier centers on epic moments, including epic scenes in movies like the "Yub Nub" Ewok celebration to epic memories like recalling the purchase of a new record when it was released. The poet lives partially in this world and partially in others by reviving late 20th century childhood longings, such as to live in the Star Wars galaxy, among others.

One such dream deals directly with poetry itself: 

Choose a poem from your
Intro to Poetry anthology.
Dial up a poem on
Go to open mic poetry nights
or listen to slams in coffee houses.
Find a poem
that won’t be improved by adding
It can’t be done.

In Peltier’s perspective, life, literature, films, shows, and music should be interchangeable and allow humans and characters to cross boundaries between worlds or break through the fourth wall. 

Peltier’s poems regularly put pop culture figures in different contexts to explore this very daydream and see how they respond. In “Guy in the Gobi,” 

I had a dream last night.
In some odd reality show
exchange program,
Guy Fieri and Bear Grylls
traded jobs for a week.
Grylls was surviving
the dives of West Texas

he had all the protein
he could ask for:
pulled pork sandwiches,
steak tacos,
Italian-Mex pizzas
w/ chorizo and 
chihuahua cheese.

This rewarding thought experiment might fuel further fantasies of the reader. Who would you swap or relocate? What would happen? 

Peltier is a lecturer at Eastern Michigan University (EMU) where he teaches literature and writing. I interviewed him about Poplandia

Q: How did you come to live in Ypsilanti and work at EMU?

A: I moved to Ypsi when I was an undergrad at EMU back in the mid-‘90s. In my senior year, having no idea what to do next, a professor of mine suggested the grad program at Eastern. It turned out that she was the director of the program at that point, so when I asked her for a letter of recommendation, she just wrote it and then put it in my file. It was oddly easy. I spent the next few years back and forth between Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor as I finished grad school. After that, I was hired as a full-time lecturer at Eastern, the last full-time lecturer hire before the Lecturer’s Union took effect in 1998, at which point the administration put the kybosh on hiring full-time folks. I got really lucky, and I’ve been there ever since. In the Department of English Language and Literature, I’ve been teaching Writing, Intro to Poetry, African American Literature, and Sci/Fi ever since with the occasional opportunity to teach Afrofuturism and Detective Fiction. It’s been a fun rollercoaster, and now that I’m doing the math, I guess it’s actually been half of my life.

Q: You also worked at Nicola’s Books, now Schuler Books, in Ann Arbor. How long did you work there? What did you like about being a bookseller? 

A: I started working at Nicola’s in the fall of 2008. I was there part-time for about 10 years. It started as a way to make ends meet, but I really enjoyed getting to understand that side of the book industry. I also ended up making some good friends there, and, in fact, that’s where I met my wife. I guess I also really liked the discount on books and keeping up to date with all the newest stuff.

Q: Did working at Nicola’s inspire any poems in your new chapbook, Poplandia? Why or why not?

A: Well, I don’t think I’ve ever written specifically about the store, but working there gave me access to lots of new poetry I wouldn’t have read otherwise, so I’m sure I was influenced by it one way or another. I found some of my favorite novelists while I was working there, too. People like Ottessa Moshfegh, Roberto Bolaño, Nalo Hopkinson, and Oyinkan Braithwhite.

Q: How did you decide on the title of Poplandia

A: I don’t know. I guess it just sort of happened as I was assembling my pop culture-based stuff into a manuscript. I suppose it came from books like Swamplandia and Fordlandia. There was a call for manuscripts featuring pop culture poetry. As I put everything together, the word just fell out onto the top of the document, and I liked it. My book wasn’t accepted there, but I submitted it a few other places, and Alien Buddha Press liked it. It’s been a pretty great ride since.

Q: Like many of the poems in the book, the poem, “All Good Things,” covers a range of references from Baywatch to Star Wars. Towards the end, the lines read, “in the fall of 2020, the word went out. / Our lives would change / forever.” Yet the thing that changed – spoiler alert – was the Taco Bell Mexican Pizza. Is this poem a lighter take on the pandemic, which also started earlier in 2020? 

A: Honestly, the connection hadn’t occurred to me, but I like it. I think I’m going to run with that one from here on out. The poem actually came about as an attempt to place something in a specific journal. There’s an absolutely ridiculous literature magazine out of LA called Taco Bell Quarterly. It’s in no way connected to the restaurant chain, but I have a feeling the editor probably worked there for a while or something. They only publish stuff related to Taco Bell, and it’s so absurd that I’ve been dreaming of getting something published in there. The thing is, they take it pretty seriously, you know, like not wanting sarcastic stuff or anything too goofy. I’ve submitted a few poems there but they’ve all been rejected … someday maybe. I have a couple waiting for their next submission period so we’ll see. 

Q: I am still curious about the poem, “All Good Things.” How did you combine these seemingly disparate references into one poem? 

A: The references sort of create a list of things that have ended and had an effect on me but otherwise kind of fly under the radar. The other thing is that I chose things that aren’t that important, rather than focusing on bigger things like COVID, or the wars on the Muslim world, or climate change. Maybe someday I’ll be able to write a poem about the end of racism or transphobia, but that doesn’t seem too likely any time soon.

Q: I sometimes ask fiction writers if they know the plot before they write or if they figure out what happens as they go. I do not usually ask that of poems, but your poems made me think of this process question. Do you form the connections between references as you write a poem, or do you consider the subject matter beforehand and decide to write a poem about it? 

A: Hmmm, it’s different from poem to poem. Sometimes, I outline and plan things really closely, while other times I just write until something interesting starts emerging. Afterwards, I will go back and edit to give things more structure. With “All Good Things,” I planned it out pretty specifically to hit particular years. Even the title is actually a reference to something… it’s the title of the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I mean, obviously, it’s also just a phrase, but I really love that particular episode. 

For a poem like “Yub Nub, Mother Fuckers,” I had to do some research into 1980’s toys in order remember which ones came out in 1983 so they would sync up with the release of The Ewok Village Playset. 

Other poems, like “Uber Through the Sands of Arrakis,” were more flying by the seat of my pants. A journal I really like called The Daily Drunk asked for poems about Dune sandworms having “side hustles,” and then it came together in about 15 minutes. 

Q: How does teaching writing and literature at EMU contribute to your own writing? 

A: As far as teaching literature is concerned, it’s really a case of learning the tricks of structure and rhythm. The other thing is that it’s just given me confidence. I’ve had to read a lot of stuff that I didn’t like and thought, “Well, I can do better than that,” which may or may not actually be the case, but I realized that there’s just a lot of stuff out there so why not give it a go.

I’ve been writing poetry since high school in the early ‘90s, but I only started submitting it places during the pandemic. In fact, people were pretty surprised because I’d never really even talked about the fact that I was writing, so friends and family had no idea. I finally just figured, “What’s the worst that can happen?” People will reject it, but then it’s no different than just leaving it on my hard drive and showing no one. I submit poems to journals all the time which means I get rejections all the time, too, so I’ve been able to develop a pretty good reaction to it, you know, a pretty thick skin.

I started teaching writing when I was in grad school back in ‘98. It was never what I really wanted to do. I imagined I’d be teaching 19th century poetry: Whitman, Shelley, Wordsworth, and people like that. It turns out, I’m actually probably better at teaching writing than I am at literature, and my real focus in those classes has been on research and revision. Just helping students understand how to use the library is fascinating, and then walking through the process of revision and rewriting is great. Those are the two big things I suppose I’ve taken from those classes. 

Q: What are you reading this year? 

A: So far this year, I’ve read a couple poetry collection by Aracelis Girmay. Her book The Black Maria is absolutely amazing. I read a collection of poems by the medieval French poet, François Villon, simply called Françios Villon: Complete Poems. It was interesting… he was a bit of a rogue and highway man, and he wrote a lot about those experiences. It turns out that medieval crime poetry kind of rules.

I also read Murder on the Orient Express. I’d seen the movie a million times, but never actually read it before. I think I could spend the rest of the year just reading Agatha Christie if I didn’t have other stuff to read, too. I also recently read a book by William S. Burroughs about his “cut-up” writing techniques called The Third Mind. It was absolutely fascinating and simultaneously absolutely full of shit. I just started another book by him though, The Soft Machine, and it’s great. Of course, I have a stack of books on the end table. I’ve been trying to read a library book, a new book, and an older book that’s been sitting around the house and then starting the cycle over again. A lot of comic books and graphic novels, too. If a comic takes place in Gotham City or the Star Wars Universe, I will definitely read it.

Oh, and one other poetry collection I read this month is The Knees of a Natural Man by Henry Dumas. Fabulous stuff and people who have never heard of him should definitely seek his stuff out. His is a really tragic story. His poetry is so good, but he ended up being shot down by a police officer in a subway station in Harlem in 1968 when he was just 34 years old. The officer claimed he had a knife, but then of course he claimed that. Others think it was a case of mistaken identity, but all the records have been lost so no one is sure of what actually happened. All I know for sure is that he was yet one more young African American man killed by a cop on the streets of “the land of the free.”

Q: With this chapbook published late last year, what is coming up in the new year for you? 

A: Actually, I have two or three new collections coming out this year… depending how we count them. I have a short collection of political and environmental poems getting published by an outfit in London called Back Room Press. They make everything by hand and print 50 copies. It’s only 25 pages so the good folks at Alien Buddha (the publisher of Poplandia) said once that’s done, we can expand it and republish it as a full collection. I also have a chapbook coming out later this year from a publisher in Tampa called Finishing Line Press. That one is a collection of nostalgic poems about growing up in Michigan.

The one from Back Room is called Trouble on the Escarpment (a phrase from the old Tarzan movies that always implies some evil westerner has shown up and is about to create problems for the locals and the local animals), the expanded version from Alien Buddha is called Ambassador Bridge: Poems (with a really cool picture I took of the bridge during the Freedom Festival in Detroit about 15 years ago on the cover), and the one about my youth is called Petoskey Stones (it will have a beautiful painting on the cover by an old friend of mine who still lives in Northern Michigan). I guess people should keep an eye out for those sometime in the spring. 

I’m also going to be hosting an open mic night in Ypsilanti starting in February at a new store called Wyrd Byrd. My friends opened it a couple months ago, and it’s pretty out there. They sell used and imported punk and metal albums from Europe along with weird imported zines and gaming manuals. It’s a cool, funky place, and I’m really excited to get these readings started.

It’s been really exiting to have a little success over the last couple years and see that it seems to be continuing this coming year. Thanks for talking to me about this stuff. It’s been really fun.

Martha Stuit is a former reporter and current librarian.