Poet Of The Week

Tommy Pico

     August 24–30, 2015

Tommy “Teebs” Pico is the founder and editor-in-chief of birdsong, an antiracist/queer-positive collective, small press and zine that publishes art and writing. The author of absentMINDR (VERBALVISUAL, 2014)—the first chapbook APP published for iOS mobile/tablet devices—Pico was a Queer/Art/Mentors inaugural fellow and a 2013 Lambda Literary fellow in poetry and has published poems in BOMB, Guernica, [PANK] and elsewhere. Originally from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation, he now lives in Brooklyn, where he co-curates the reading series Poets With Attitude (PWA) with Morgan Parker.

from IRL

I’m in the city. Am the city.
The rush is what I covet the
noise of constant motion,
curled in bed on the rez
a sense of options. I’m
starting to (s)well up,
feasting on boys ideas
and language and chips
of technology. Sometimes
real food. So much is left
to interpretation—the jag
you think is a dagger
as Man says faggot
but really says father
to someone out of
the range of yr thot process.
This is how shoulders
scoop n say stay scooped:
Feeling eyes
upon you, walk to the door.
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,
spit toward you
and sometimes even fo-
llow close behind.
If you take Montrose
to Lorimer, it’s almost good
but nearing the turn
is the stretch where men
sit on lawn chairs to watch
the baseball games in
the park and they will
throw bottlecaps call u
fag, if you walk alone. W/
a friend, you will forget
to pay attention. The walk
to Greenpoint is fine
until about Norman. Stay
on the even side
otherwise you pass the red-
faced Polish men
who will bark at you
sometimes jut their chins
make kissy faces
and spit. Cross to Metro-
politan at Lorimer,
or to the side of Graham
to the right of Scholes
and never btwn 3pm and 4
bc you know—teens.
When walking with Jess
or Chantal or Wilkes
or Lauren or Maud or Cat
or Kayla or Theresa
or Ruby or Allison they
intone walking with you
six foot two

feels safer, they get less
shit and spit and suck
from men, and while you think
godamn, my faggot ass
makes men hesitant?
u of course oblige while u
realize this makes you
more that hated man-
thing—this is a safety
exchange. With friends,
u think less about a jeer
and more then what’d he say?
These rules are subject
to change at any
time and you may be
hit or spit on eye bulging
broken nose stabbed
pounced and left for dead
Chelsea Clearview rainy day
spit on. Duane Reade
Delancey Lower East Side
spit on, man
on the subway shouting
Bible verses at you from
across the way, white spittle
in the corners of his mouth.
Feeling eyes upon you,
exploding red,
walk to the next car.
Wipe your face off, bitch.
There is a kind of power
in being reviled
for just being
in the sense that my
scooped shoulders the snake
of my neck my bare legs
strike frenzy I scare them
something in the lumen
jolts, terror or desire, hate
so swoll it destabilizes some-
thing about their everyday some-
thing bubbling shuddering
under the brushstroke
of stars. The point at which musc-
le isn’t flexing so much as re-
flecting work That is not power
I have, but have been
granted. It’s more marble
than I can handle,
more ambient fear than I
want swirling in my wake
Gay bar. Stupid fucking gay
bar. Stupid fucking panic attack
when boy makes eye
contact in the fucking gay feel
of an open, low grassland
surrounded by tall pines
the neck rolling side
to side—There is surely
something stalking
and knowing
where it comes from
will help the bounding

–Originally published in Blunderbuss, 2014.

Tell us about the making of this poem.

The poem as a whole, which is over 70 pages long, started as an exercise at a Brooklyn Poets retreat in May 2014 actually. We read an excerpt from Tape for the Turn of the Year by A. R. Ammons, which was written on a single roll of adding tape over the course of about a month. I started mine as a sext that turns into the anxious, internal rambling that happens when you don’t get an immediate response, writing the poem as if one long text message. When I left the retreat it was three pages long, but kept working on it all summer and by August had a manuscript about crushing on Muse, cycles of compulsive destructive behaviors, street harassment, connecting to my lost indigenous language and spirituality through art, being a hot mess, and like karaoke lol.

What are you working on right now?

Eating nachos at Videology, finishing a second book-length poem Nature Poem, and keeping my eyes closed when making out slash being in the moment.

What’s a good day for you?

This might be controversial, but I hate writing. It’s hard af and makes me feel like a crabby failure, but! (and this is going to sound super corny) I think the only thing that makes me feel worse than writing is not writing. So a good day is one free of writer’s block and with nachos, or fries with some form of vinegar mayo. Srsly, vinegar mayo is the shiiiiit.

How long have you lived in Brooklyn? What neighborhood do you live in?

I moved to Brooklyn in 2006, but to the state in 2002—I’ve lived in five different Brooklyn apts, but currently reside in Bushwick.

What do you like most about it?

Almost all of my friends and favorite writers live here, and let me tell you I can’t drive for nothing (I fall asleep behind the wheel) so the trains and bustime.mta.info give me a ton of solace.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad or in between.

I dunno if this is a broad Brooklyn thing, but it’s definitely my Brooklyn. Like a month ago I was getting nachos at Videology (my one true vice) and as the bartender took my credit card he looked at it, and back at me, and back at the card. “Hey, Tommy Pico, I’ve heard of you . . . ” So of course I puff up my chest all bird-like, purse my lips and bobble my head. Then he was like, “Are you the guy from Morgan Parker’s bio?” HAAAAHAHAHA I guess he’d heard her at a reading the week before, but god it was such a satisfying reminder that I’m out here doing my shit and so are my friends.

Favorite Brooklyn poet(s), dead and/or alive?

My girl Morgan, JT, Angel Nafis, Ana Božičević, Pamela Sneed, Cat Fitzpatrick, Xeňa Semjonová, it goes on and on. I adore people whose writing really says something and who read the hell out of it live.

Favorite Brooklyn bookstore(s)?

Greenlight, Greenlight, Greenlight—it’s super cute and their poetry salon is tight af.

Favorite places to read and write in Brooklyn (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

Last summer while writing IRL I shared an office with Hello Mr. magazine and TRNK, a home shopping magazine/marketplace, in one of those warehouses on the Greenpoint waterfront. It had these big windows that overlooked the entirety of the Manhattan skyline, and being that I was in the space writing from mid morning until the evening time, I would watch that magic moment every day when the sun starts going down and the city lights start coming up and it gave me moments, moments, moments.

Favorite places to go in Brooklyn not involving reading or writing?

Smorgasburg in East River Park on summer Saturdays bc they have like 50 food booths of small plates, and let’s just say tapas is my favorite medium of food cos you can get like five things and not feel horrible.

Last awesome book(s)/poem(s) you read?

[insert] boy by Danez Smith turned me the fuck out.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate the Dip,
and what I dip, you dip, we dip,
for every dip with me as good a dip with you.

Why Brooklyn?

Why Brooklyn? Yes yes Brooklyn totally but is it blasphemous to ask, wd everyone hate me if I moved to Philly?