2019 Contest: Interview with Poetry Judge Tommy Pico
Tommy “Teebs” Pico is the author of the books IRL, Nature Poem, Junk, Feed, and myriad keen tweets including “sittin on the cock of gay.” Originally from the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay nation, he now splits his time between Los Angeles and Brooklyn. He co-curates the reading series Poets with Attitude, co-hosts the podcast Food 4 Thot, and is a contributing editor at Literary Hub.
Interview by Natalie Welch
Black Warrior Review: One thing that draws me to your work is the way that your speaker is able to jump from subject to subject and shift tone so effectively to create wonderfully messy, sprawling book-length poems. I’m interested in your process of collection of and commentating on the world in your poems. How do you craft such a space for accumulation? Especially in long-form work?
Tommy Pico: I think it’s a space for accumulation because it’s long-form work. Because the world accumulates all over the world, so too does it in the poems. I try as much as I can to make every little thing in life a subject of the poem and subject to the poem, whether “poetry” or jokes or tweets or text messages or dialogue or current events or historical traumas or gutter slut fantasies. If a poem can be anything you want, can’t it be everything you want?
BWR: A somewhat-related question: Junk provides a place in poetry for junk to exist, but junk within the book also seems to function as a hybrid, in-between space. How do you see such a space working in the world of this poem, or others?
TP: It engorges like an eggplant emoji.
BWR: There is such amazing, distinct humor in your voice—what role does humor play in your poetry? Do you/how do you use or treat humor as a form of resistance?
TP: Making myself laugh literally makes me not want to die as much as everything else does. Maybe it works on other people too?
BWR: Along with this humor, your books are so full of, and interrogate, intimacy and vulnerability. The speaker reveals so much about their sex life, loneliness, dating experiences, family histories, trauma, to name a few. Can you speak about the ways that intimacy and vulnerability appear on the page or what it’s like writing these moments?
TP: Lol the only way I can be intimate or vulnerable is if I pretend it’s happening to someone else. So I made a character named Teebs and I made him be very vulnerable and turned his life basically into a tell-all, and usually he does what I tell him to.
BWR: Nature Poem examines histories of poetic form and tradition by creating the character of Nature, and there is a similar gesture in IRL with the Muse. How do you see these characters functioning in the work and how did you build them?
TP: Muse is the object of an unrequited crush, whereas Teebs gets into an actual relationship with Nature. Junk is what happens in the breakup, and Feed is a work of reconciliation. I guess I wanted to explore the life cycle of a relationship, in whatever realistic and metaphorical and political and pop cultural objects they absorbed or absorbed differently at any given stage.
BWR: You have a new book, Feed, coming out soon! And you are working on (or, based on recent Twitter posts, maybe finished with) a screenplay. Can you share anything about these projects, the process of writing them, or any other projects you’re currently working on?
TP: I’m currently working with my producer at attaching talent to that script, and once I’ve got a director I’ll probably do another draft. Or several, I don’t know—it’s my first time at this particular rodeo. I’m also working on a short, a few different features with different writing partners, sketching new feature ideas on my own mostly in genre work because I want to see indigenous science fiction and indigenous horror and indigenous romantic comedies, you know? Also I’m working on a novel because I’m a masochist and pulling together some threads for an essay collection, while also kind of touring consistently and trying in whatever small way I can to fool around with dudes and make time for friends. Oh also my podcast Food 4 Thot and this new show I’m making with my friend Drea called “Scream, Queen!” It’s a scary movie podcast from a queer & femme & black & indigenous perspective. I would love to have a hobby or something but there’s not really time for that. I think I’ve gone to karaoke once this whole year? Which is a damn shame.
BWR: What book recommendations do you have? Are there any emerging poets/writers whose work our readers should check out? What about writers, collections, or lines that you go back to again and again? Same questions for movies, music, podcasts, art, etc.
TP: Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett, and I’m working my way through Future Home of the Living God by Louise Erdrich. I’d love to have a crack at adapting that into a feature. As for music, right now it’s a lot of Lizzo and of course endlessly listening to “Love Drought” by Beyoncé. I love that Microsoft office knows that there’s an accent on the end of her name. My favorite podcast is probably Switched on Pop because it’s all about deep reading contemporary pop songs, from lyrics to melody and percussion etc to show how every element of them underscores their meaning. Also It’s Been A Minute with Sam Sanders because he’s such a smart and talented charmer. I also just finished the second season of Flea Bag and my god Kristen Scott Thomas can own my ass, like it’s all hers she should just take it. I wish I could make more and give her more of it.
BWR: Finally, what excites you about the poetry you admire? Are there any qualities that a winning contest submission might have?
TP: Oh I don’t know, things that are sharp and distinct that have an identity and that actually say something. Like there’s an urgency and a heartbeat and a heat? Bonus if there’s a really stupid pun or bad dad joke.