on junk

From Brooklyn poet Tommy “Teebs” Pico comes the final installment in his trilogy of long poems that explore the nuances of urban life, Indigenous identity, queer love, and  more through the use of forms heavily influenced by the frenetic pace of social media and digital communication.

In Junk, a modern epic made up of enjambed couplets, Pico grabs his reader’s attention and runs with it. Writing in the stream-of-consciousness mode, using textspeak, Pico embeds musings about love and loss, race and class, trauma and grief, within an expanse of pop cultural references, caustic jokes, and offhand remarks about daily life. The couplets blur by in a state of frenzy that’s as enthralling as it is provocative: the poem’s anarchic form well suits its poet’s radical politics as well as his passion for the messiness of pop culture. From the start, Pico more than makes it clear that he has little use for aesthetic order, viewing it as an oppressive constraint on the disarray of his experiences:

Frenching with a mouthful of M&M’s dunno if I feel polluted

 or into it—the lights go low across the multiplex Temple of

 

canoodling and Junk food A collision of corn dog bites and

chunky salsa to achieve a spiritual escape velocity Why am I in

 

this cup holder? B/c yr bubbly, dummy But I feel squeeze cheese

uneasy In Faggotland coupling is at best delicate precarious &

 

rarefied Eggshells At worst, a snipe hunt Love in the time of

climate change Should I be nervous? No, it’s too dark in here

Whereas the form of the first part of Pico’s trilogy, IRL, mimicked that of a series of text messages, the effect of reading Junk parallels that of scrolling through a Twitter or Tumblr feed. The somber mingles with the superficial, the solemn with the flippant. Anything can brush against anything, even as everything remains distinct. Pico’s goal seems not to be to create order out of disorder, beauty out of chaos, but to make disparate levels of discourse and culture clash with each other in ways that are at once unsettling and captivating.

To that end, Pico’s coarse, even trashy, language thwarts attempts to beautify his work or universalize his thought. So, too, does his frank eroticism revive the seedy aesthetic of the poems of Ginsberg and other 20th century queer male poets. Pico ties his poem firmly to the grittiness of existence on the fringes of urban life in America, and he insists upon the specificity of his experiences as a “queer NDN weirdo.”

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