‘IRL’ by Tommy Pico
Author: Christopher Soto
November 5, 2016
A few years ago, I invited Tommy Pico to participate in a day-long writing workshop that I wanted to host in my house (which ultimately didn’t occur). I was inspired by Bernadette Meyer’s A Midwinter Day in which she wrote a whole book of poetry in a day’s span. She was the poet (introduced to me by Rachel Zucker) who got me interested in long poems and the idea of the poetry collection as project or experiment. She let me know that not all poetry books have to be constellations of one-page long workshop poems. Not all poems can be excerpted or fit into the confines of a magazine spread. This is what Tommy Pico does. He makes the long poem popular again. He combats the MFA poet with colloquialisms and pop culture.
While reading IRL, I was trying to think about who Tommy Pico sounds like. The answer is quite simple. He sounds like Tommy Pico. He is a native (Kumeyaay) queer poet who relocated from what we call the American Southwest to New York City. I once heard Tommy Pico say that without queerness, he’s not sure whether or not he would be in New York City. I’ve heard Tommy speak about the weight he felt leaving the reservation. Once, we went to hear Sherman Alexie speak together. He told me “You have no idea, that man saved my life. His writing literally saved my life.” And this is why I know that Tommy Pico is so important. Why Tommy Pico needs to be heard. There are not many other voices like his and for a young queer kid, native kid, weirdo- I believe that Tommy Pico has the ability to save people’s lives.
Pertaining to influences, I hear in Pico’s work, it’s a strange thing to say but I feel like Tommy Pico resembles both Eileen Myles and Morgan Parker. I see the pop cultural references to Beyonce and M.I.A and Amy Winehouse and reflections on contemporary life (mentioning Grindr) which is something that is to me, emblematic of Morgan Parker’s work (contemporary references). I see contracted spelling of words like “yr” and “bc” and I think of Eileen Myles and New York School Poetry. I see a poet who values concision and precision, who does not overly stuff their work with poetic devices. Tommy Pico meanders in thought and emotional gravity. Pop culture allows Tommy Pico to address very political and grave issues, without overburdening the reader emotionally. Pop culture allows Pico to write about “When cultural inheritance / is generational trauma / hunted by governments / by Spain, by Mexico, by the United / States, by pathogens by / black mold in shitty mobile / homes…”
In the first twenty pages of IRL I had already cried and laughed. The emotional range of Pico’s work is superb. He writes, “In college I met a Whitney / as in the museum / n I’m like Whitney like / Houston? Money is not a- / mused.” His work makes me giggle then blows my mind. Seamlessly flowing from one thought to the next. This book is meant to be read in the summer. Pico says that he is working on different books to resemble different seasons. While reading IRL, on the train in Brooklyn this summer, I feel human, I feel seen, I feel like I’m having a conversation with the book, or rather IRL is narrating what is going on around me IRL. “If walking to the JMZ / summertime and you want / to show your legs– / take Scholes to Lorimer,/ cross to the other side of the park. / if you walk parkside, / men on the benches / will call you faggot.” IRL is the sort of book that you bring to the beach, read on the train, hug when you ‘re lonelyy. It is not a book that is easily excerpted, but rather it is best when read in whole. How beautiful that Tommy Pico has created a work of art which so closely captures what it feels like to be alive TODAY.
Now, faggotry is the last part of the book which I’d like to discuss. Much of IRL follows New York love life, different boys and dates, but most importantly- Muse. Muse embodies different forms. “Let’s call Muse a heavenly / body, in the sense that I can’t / even think about it” or “Muse is romanticized / by the idea of possession and lord / knows I can’t live unoccupied” or “the writers and artists / the musicians, my old / roommates, Muses, lost.” Everywhere that the narrator in the book goes, Muse is there. Now, my thoughts turn to Lorca and conversations about Muse, the Archangel, and Duende. Where does poetry come from? Tommy Pico finds poetry everywhere, in everything. IRL is brilliant because it allows the reader to find poetry in their everyday life, too.
By Tommy Pico
Paperback, 9780991429868, 98 pp.