Danielle Susi: Junk is a single, book-length poem, described as “a breakup poem in couplets”. Can you explain the meaning of “junk”–of your search for something outside of utility?
Tommy Pico: My mom worked at a thrift store on the rez when I was a kid, so I grew up surrounded by junk. It always felt to me like a bunch of unique, knobby objects made indistinct by their accumulation. Like a junk drawer. That’s why I wanted the interior to be couplets all 4.5 inches long, 10 couplets a page. Each page looks just like the last one. The idea was that you’d stumble across super sharp language that would then get lost in the junk drawer of the poem. That coupled with the idea that junk is a used object looking for a new use, I wondered: if utility is stripped from an object, could there then just be an appreciation in “being”? Not in “doing” or “making” or various other verb-ings. Like what if you weren’t your job, or your living situation, or your partner? Also, dicks. And cheese fries.
DS: I really love your use of what I’ll call “texting language” (i.e. “dunno”, “yr”, etc). This kind of language transcends more “academic” language, but is also remarkably real and relatable. Is it more comfortable for you to write like this?
TP: It’s just the way that I write. Emails, texts, tweets, DMs, various group chats. I would say sexting but I literally can’t sext bc it makes me giggle. I had this one ex who was really into sexting and he would send things like “I can’t wait to rail you” and I was just like oh honey. I’m gonna ride you out of town on those rails.
DS: I hear you on the absurdity of sexting. I’m curious, when you use the phrase “used object looking for a new use” in reference to junk, if that could apply to someone who has just left a relationship as well?
TP: Not just relationships but also losing a job or getting kicked out of your apartment or, or, or: anything that has become a pillar of identity you’ve leaned on that gets taken away. The spirit of Junk was written in the wake of a break-up, but my living situation was tenuous and my career was in a state of transition. All roads kind of lead to junk. When I finished the poem a year later, it was during the time after Trump was elected but before the inauguration. Another kind of break-up.
DS: Of course, your lack of punctuation is notable. It almost feels like this is being said in one big breath. Would you talk about that?
TP: Periods are just so final. It felt disingenuous to the spirit of the book to presume things ever end. It’s just lava and ice floes crashing into each other. It’s also like, break-ups aren’t final either. The front half of the poem is more the experience of being broken up with, but the second half of the poem is like being on the other side, breaking up with someone. Who texts you about railing.
DS: For so long, you’ve been part of an underground, DIY zine culture. How do you feel like this culture and your experience making zines and curating reading series informs your booklength work? In your opinion, what is the importance of zines in the general literary zeitgeist?
TP: The only way I can write poems is by tricking myself into thinking I’m not writing poems. Poems are too precious for me to ever consider being able to write. I’ve been writing zines forever, it’s so accessible and within my reach. It’s also incredibly permissible to do whatever you want in a zine because you don’t have to be “good” you just have to do it. Therefore the satisfaction isn’t in the reception of the work, just in making it.
DS: I’m curious who you’re reading right now. To me, you’re a brilliant writer but you never seem inaccessible or held on a pedestal (in a good way!), so I’m interested to see if you read poets and other folks who write in a similar way. Oh, and what music are you listening to?
TP: I have this poetry mixtape through Tiny Letter where I send out ten poems each month to a list of subscribers, mostly as a way to keep myself in-the-know with poems. Some people I’ve read recently include Hieu Minh Nguyen, Danez Smith, Anastacia Renee Tolbert, Jane Wong, Courtney Lamar Charleston… the list really goes on and on. Music wise I’ve got Ozuna & Cardi B’s “La Modelo” on repeat. I just let everyone know that when it comes on, I will be rapt for 4 minutes so don’t take it personal if I stop talking to you.
DS: What do you believe to be the future of poetry? What do you want to see?
TP: I look around at all my faves, all these people I’m coming up with right now, see how beautifully diverse the scene is (or at least the pocket that I’m part of) and it looks like the future is here. I guess what I want to see is not just representation in the pages and on the homepages of the journals and the mags and the books, but also on the staff. In the publishing company. On the editorial board.
TOMMY “TEEBS” PICO is author of the books IRL (Birds, LLC, 2016), Nature Poem (Tin House Books, 2017), Junk (Tin House Books, forthcoming 2018), the zine series Hey, Teebs and the chapbook app absentMINDR (VerbalVisual 2014). He was the founder and Editor-in-Chief of birdsong, an antiracist/queer-positive collective, small press, and zine that published art and writing from 2008-2013. He was a Queer/Art/Mentors inaugural fellow, 2013 Lambda Literary fellow in poetry, 2016 Ace Hotel New York “Dear Reader” resident, 2016 Tin House summer poetry scholar, a 2017 NYSCA/NYFA Fellow in Poetry from the New York Foundation for the Arts, was awarded the 2017 Friends of Literature prize from the Poetry Foundation, won the Brooklyn Public Library’s 2017 Literature Prize, was a finalist for the Kate Tufts Discovery Award, and has poems in BOMB, Poetry magazine, Tin House, and elsewhere. He’s read for New York’s iconic Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church, the KGB reading series, and Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) amongst many others, and has been profiled in Fusion, Nylon, and the New Yorker. 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 at the Ace Hotel, co-hosts the podcast Food 4 Thot, and is a contributing editor at Literary Hub.