Tommy “Teebs” Pico was a Queer/Art/Mentors inaugural fellow, 2013 Lambda Literary fellow in poetry, and has poems in BOMB, Guernica, and the Offing. Originally from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation, he now lives in Brooklyn and with Morgan Parker co-curates the reading series Poets With Attitude (PWA).
Art, Interviews & Media
Pico’s brilliant, funny, and musical book-length debut finds his charming alter ego, Teebs, navigating the joys and difficulties of being a queer hipster “NDN” transplant to New York City from a California reservation. Teebs’s lines channel a rush of Internet slang and emoticons, run-on ramblings and sentence fragments, and poppy lyrical bursts (“All of these Adams,/ all of these Bens n them/ Benz and Rolls Royce’s”). He has a laundry list of beaux with nicknames such as Big-Arms-Ugly-Face and Pompadour, but his true beloved is an artist named Muse, “whose/ even slight squint bursts/ me into high July.” Teebs agonizes over Muse’s aloof behavior, quandaries about text messages, and the resigned admission that “Museless, I’m useless.” He is ambivalent about social media, denouncing the maudlin self-pitying Facebook posts of friends while praising his own cleverness: “I post a pic of Pangea/ on Insta for #tbt.” Though the poem exudes a summertime party atmosphere, Teebs calls out acts of homophobia as well as atrocities committed against NDNs, from their forced conversion by Spanish colonizers to the microaggressions of corporate cultural appropriation. He also invokes Gertrude Stein and Sherman Alexie as naturally as he does Beyoncé. Pico’s skillful rendering of Teebs’s coming-of-age attempts to create a cohesive identity out of his many selves proves to be entertaining, enlightening, and utterly relatable in the age of the smartphone. (Sept.)
Tommy Pico: I love book poems the way I love raisins—nobody else likes them, so I don’t have to share! Just kidding. Raisins suck. Just kidding I love them. Anyway, I think book poems give space to the kind of world that can’t stop at the end of a sentence or a stanza or a page. Some things just keep going, you know? Especially with regard to the ramifications of settler colonialism and traumas experienced on the generational level. Other contemporary poets who make epics I admire and am inspired by include Robin Coste Lewis, Jeffrey Yang, R. Erica Doyle, Ken Chen, Anne Carson… the list goes on. I see book poems as a kind of event horizon; they suck me in. I think writing something longer is particularly challenging because there’s this constant voice in the back of my head that’s like: are you enhancing this world, or just accumulating?
In his debut book of poems, IRL, Tommy Pico filters the internet's endless feeds through poetry.
As part of our Dear Reader program, Tommy stayed for a night at Ace Hotel New York. Afterwards, we caught up with him to ask about his process, his time with us and the perils of too much candy.
In the simplest possible terms: what is your medium, and what is your process? I think it’s fair to call poetry a medium, don’t you?
Even more specific than poetry I’d say for the past few years my medium has been the long poem. My first two books are book-length poems, and I’m working on a third. I usually start by posting sections on a private tumblr or making a zine. I think just so the writing feels less… precious? It’s not like I’m making poetry – I’m just writing a tumblr post, or I’m just making a zine. Neither of those have rules or any expectations of beauty or brilliance or literature. I guess you could say my medium is trickery!