Monday, April 8, 2024

TBR: Pop Culture Poetry: The Definitive Collection by Michael B. Tager

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe. 


We don’t expect an elevator pitch from a poet, but can you tell us about your work in 2-3 sentences?


The poems within Pop Culture Poetry: The Definitive Collection explore our relationship with celebrity. They're about David Attenborough and 90s Hip Hop, Bjork, toxic masculinity, Patrick Swayze, The Golden Girls, nostalgia and vulnerability, Whoopi Goldberg, Justin Bieber, video games and Queen. But they're also about the author, and also about you, and you (and yes, you in the back).


What boundaries did you break in the writing of this book? Where does that sort of courage come from?


I don’t know if I’d call it a boundary as such, but I started writing these poems specifically because I didn’t see much of the everyday in a lot of the writing I was encountering, in poetry especially, but also in fiction. I didn’t really “get” that, because I figured that anything we spend as much time with as we do tv, or sports, or music, or whatever, should be featured in the poems that we write.


Maybe the “boundary” is that writing poems about tv shows or celebrity crushes isn’t very serious. Or maybe there is no boundary at all and I just haven’t read those poems and am unfamiliar with those poets.


A couple poets in my circle–Tracy Dimond and Steven Leyva–would occasionally drop some references to their own tastes (I remember poems about OkCupid and Star Trek, respectively), and it got me to thinking about my own writing and the risks I wasn’t taking, the life I wasn’t representing. So I wrote some poems about Patrick Swayze movies after rewatching Point Break and I was off to the races.


They’re also funny, which also isn’t a boundary, but does seem to be absent in a lot of serious poetry. And they are serious poems, in that I mean what I say, even if they don’t seem that way upon first read. Do I literally mean that David Attenborough was turned into a vampire via a trip into caverns and quotes Missy Elliott whilst eating people? Well probably not, but it’s a funny image, and I do have thoughts about caves, the mysteries of the planet, and that. 


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.

 I came across a series of poems about trees and kind of rolled my eyes. Don’t get me wrong, I like trees and I like tree poems, but I’ve also read a lot of them, just like I’ve read of bird/moon poetry, and they sometimes run together. I wondered how, if I were to write nature poetry, I’d access that.

 I’m a big fan of nature documentaries and was super into Planet Earth at the time which immediately brought David Attenborough to mind. I started writing a poem and for whatever reason I inserted a Lil Bow Wow lyric into the first one. Normally I’d have deleted that, but because I wanted these to be fun, I left it in. That turned the series of poems into a David Attenborough–90s hip hop mashup, because in this alternate universe, Attenborough loves 2pac.

 Those poems were immediately accepted for publication and have been my most reliable hits when I’m giving a reading. I think they’re the reason I believed in this manuscript enough to call it a manuscript and show it to people. I don’t think it would exist otherwise!


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?

 Erin Fitzgerald from Barrelhouse told me once that my writing was too controlled and that I needed to let it be messy, because that was where the surprises happened. She was right! Letting it be weird, letting questions be asked that aren’t answered, doing what seems bad at the time is what often leads to the good stuff!


How did you find the title of your book?

 The title is the title because subtlety is for chumps and while it’s a totally reasonable practice, I’m not a fan of naming a book after a single poem within a manuscript. It’s just not my bag. I thought about naming it after a central theme and couldn’t come up with anything so just called it what it is and didn’t hate it. Now I love it.

Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes you might share?)

The only meal that comes to mind is what I affectionately call “veggie mess,” which might be an apt metaphor for these poems! They’re kind of a mess, but there’s a plan, and a mission, and a flow. And they also taste delightful!


Veggie Mess Receipt:




Anything leftover in the fridge/pantry

      onions are helpful

      beans and/or potatoes are also important

      If you have it, cheese works well

Garlic, salt, pepper, basil, cayenne

Olive oil


Step 1: pull out all the leftover veggies you have

Step 2: cut them up and start sauteing them: cook until al dente

Step 3: throw in any sauce and/or cheese, whatever you have

Step 4: throw in your beans and/or potatoes

Step 5: throw in your seasoning

Step 6: cool and eat












DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.