cover image Junk


Tommy Pico. Tin House, $15.95 trade paper (80p) ISBN 978-1-941040-97-3

Pico (Nature Poem) concludes his stellar “Teebs” trilogy in this frenetic book-length poem, a visceral exorcism of personal and collective demons. He draws formal inspiration from A.R. Ammons’s Garbage, but “Junk isn’t/ garbage It’s not outlived its purpose.” Pico litters his text with physical, emotional, and psychological detritus: “A collision of corn dog bites and/ chunky salsa to achieve a spiritual escape velocity,” thrift store miscellanea, and the baggage of lost loves. The poem is also driven by pop culture references (Janet Jackson is the work’s patron saint); commentary on gay hookup culture; and allusions to such world events as the Syrian refugee crisis, the 2016 shooting at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub, and the water protectors’ uprising at Standing Rock. These references build into an apocalyptic crescendo via Pico’s propulsive fervor, junk piling on junk. Junk also doubles as metaphor for the psychic state of terror one experiences as a target of persecution, in Pico’s case, as a gay “NDN.” “I’m from a place where ppl became/ garbage,” he writes. “Poverty is like this:/ you keep everything until the wheels fall off and then you eat// the wheels.” The poem is a therapeutic process for poet and reader alike; Pico demonstrates that a person’s many selves, traumas, anxieties, hookups, and breakups can become a marker of courage and survival. (May)