On a particularly hot day this August, Tommy Pico explained his approach to the work of poetry. A book-length poem he wrote, “IRL,” will come out in September, and he had been giving readings and planning events. Pico grew up on the Viejas Reservation, near San Diego. His dad was a chairman of the reservation and often told his son that he was good at his job because he didn’t like it. This is how Pico now feels about being a poet. “That’s why I’m good at reading,” Pico told me, as we rode the train from a hair appointment to his apartment, in Bushwick. “I don’t want to be the one onstage, but that’s part of the job.”
“IRL” will be published by the independent press Birds, LLC. Pico’s next book, “Nature Poem,” is scheduled for release in May, 2017, from Tin House. Pico, thirty-two, is part of the Kumeyaay nation; he has lived in New York for the past thirteen years. He told me that he uses poetry to square two identities that don’t fit together well: being a poor, queer kid from the rez, and being a pleasure-seeking, technology-addicted New Yorker who would rather chase the boys he meets on apps than think about centuries of pain passed from one generation to another. Poetry is also, he said, a way to make people understand just how hard that squaring is. He wants his readers to feel the disjointedness of his life.