Queer Indigenous Poet Tommy Pico’s Breaks the Boundaries of Poetry

Written by Jeff Rose

The work of queer and indigenous poet Tommy Pico fangirls over the songs of Amy Winehouse in one stanza, claps  back at gay men in the next, and then ruminates over Native American microaggressions. His work delves into his identity and experiences as a gay Kumeyaay man originally from the Viejas Indian Reservation but living in New York. Experimental, unique, and inspiring, Pico’s epic poetry speaks for his Native American people and for queer experiences.

Pico’s third book, Junk, promises to to be an exciting conclusion to his trilogy of poetry. This book follows his previous two works, IRL and Nature Poem, both book-length poems of the Teebs (his nickname, persona, and character) trilogy. “I wasn’t raised in a world that necessarily uplifts queer indigenous experiences. So in order to get people to pay attention, I knew I was going to have to be very loud and very funny or sharp or something,” Pico said in a New York Times article.

And loud he is. He was named one of Flavorwires “50 Writers You Need to See Read Live.” In the podcast he co-hosts, Food 4 Thot, he’s mentioned how poetry readings tend to be boring, so he tries to make his fun. His witty humor mixed with his uproarious personality leads to unforgettable readings that will make anyone laugh. His work is fitting of a newer generation that gets his social media references, texting lingo, and pop culture tangents, all in a way that redefines what one can do with poetry.  

Pico’s first book, IRL, takes the form of a series of long text messages. Centered in the middle of the page like a text, his poems, including his other novel and the excerpts from Junk, often feature texting shorthand like “u” in place of “you,” “n” for “and,” and “bc” instead of “because,” with an occasional emoji here and there. Pico’s use of this language ties back with his voice, as he’s spoken in his podcast about writing his poetry in a way that reads as if he’s speaking. Described as a “sweaty, summertime poem,” Pico features ancient Kumeyaay Bird Songs alongside verses discussing Beyoncé in an accumulation that questions his very existence as a queer indigenous person generations after his ancestors’ alienation and genocide.

His second book, Nature Poem, varies in form from his previous novel. Published by Tin House, Pico’s character Teebs grapples with writing a nature poem that feels stereotypical and reductive of him. This character struggles with the so-called closeness associated with “nature” and Native Americans, feeling that it allowed for discrimination and paved the way to genocide. Pico’s writing weaves imagery of nature, cityscapes, and social media close together in a way that redefines what nature means to any one person.   

Junk comes out May 8th from Tin House, and is described as a breakup poem in couplets. You can catch Pico co-hosting on the podcast Food 4 Thot, or on any relevant social media (whenever he’s off SM haituses) @heyteebs. You can also find excerpts of his poetry across the interwebs. If you buy his newest book, be sure to tag him and post on social media “I finally got Tommy Pico’s Junk!” You’ll make him titter.

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