Tommy Pico

Birds, LLC, 2016

Tommy Pico’s first book, IRL, is an epic poem disguised as an extended social media post. Bouncing from rooftop parties in Brooklyn to the systemic disenfranchisement of native peoples, Pico scrutinizes his concerns with a restless, piercing eye. With staccato lines and text-friendly abbreviations (“yr,” “bc,” “NDN”), IRL positions itself on a linguistic spectrum somewhere between an internet chatroom and A.R. Ammons or Eileen Myles.

True to epic tradition, IRL opens with a departure: “I text Girard do / u wanna come / over? Watch me stuff / swim trunks into / a weekender bag.” This state of being in transit or preparing to leave is central to the poem’s pathos: “Do I live, or / leave—For ppl like us, isn’t / this always the question / at the bottom of every / question.” This sentiment acts as a sobering backdrop to the “Constant flights / of tequila, bawling yawn / Flitting apt to apt” that lead readers through the work.

Pico simultaneously reinforces the allusion to the epic and queers it through a repeated invocation of the muse: “If he / said ‘I’ll fuck you / Tuesday’ I would / have :-) :-) :-) If / Muse ever texted me / I would :-) :-) :-) If / Muse texted ‘I / want to be with you’ / I would have a / minor coronary incident.” Whereas Homer invokes the blessing of a muse to embark on tales of heroism, Pico’s poem unravels in the pursuit. The result is a frantic chase, further down the page and deeper into an anxious consciousness.

Though propulsive, IRL’s stream of images, arguments, and stories never feels hasty. The unsettled pacing provides space for some of the book’s most biting assertions:

Wind marches along
the Hudson. Squint
into a house with
a crib. Paper route.
A lawn n other trappings.
of the normal life. TBQH
I find that kinda retch-worthy.
NDN ppl tell time
by funerals, my bro-
ther says. Mom rocks,
nods her head.

With a dexterous tone and seamless transitions, IRL never lets us forget our nation’s past (“There is no post-colonial / America,”) while grappling with the realities of the present (“I am so good at being Alone. / All I need is my phone”). The poem tears holes into received histories and identities to create a narrative space where “that we never intended / to include me.”