Weekly Podcast for January 16, 2017: Tommy Pico reads from "Junk"

January 16, 2017

Don Share: This is The Poetry Magazine Podcast for the week of January 16th, 2017. I’m Don Share, editor of Poetry Magazine.

Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh, consulting editor for the magazine.

Lindsay Garbutt: And I’m Lindsay Garbutt, associate editor for the magazine. In The Poetry Magazine Podcast, we listen to a poem in the current issue.

Don Share: This is Tommy Pico’s first time in the magazine. He lives in Brooklyn, and he grew up on the Vallejos Indian Reservation in California.

Lindsay Garbutt: In the January issue we have two excerpts from a book length poem he’s writing called “Junk”. We asked him about that title.

Tommy Pico: With this book and long poem I’ve become a little bit obsessed with objects in between utility, like something that’s getting repurposed or reused. The static position that’s occupied before it has found it’s new use.

Don Share: Tommy Pico told us he took his cue from the wonderful poem “Garbage” by A. R. Ammons, which is also a book length poem in couplets. He also told us that “Junk” was written on the heels of a recent romantic disappointment.

Tommy Pico: What happens after you get broken up with, or you loose your job, or you loose your apartment, and you’re just in the liminal space waiting for the other shoe to fall. It’s interesting that I’m finishing writing it now, because everyone feels that way with the country. One thing ended, and one thing hasn’t quite begun, so we’re kind of all in a junk space.

Lindsay Garbutt: Let’s listen to Tommy Pico reading an excerpt from “Junk”.

Tommy Pico: Wherever we go, needs feed and I find it harder and harder to

believe benevolence is the thing Thousands of Yazidi girls


missing and plastic fills the ocean’s mouth and the cursive of

yr name still occupies the canopy of my throat Fuel, the under-


pinning What fires your gd engine Rigor, mortis Cold as

unmoving or unmoved The opposite of music Warm in the


cold universe Molten, forming A rock becoming magma

becoming lava becoming land Land, the trauma of lava Lava


the lamp of the ancestors and later a cheeky find in the Junk

shop and rising in our living room Livin groom Just bc nothing


cares doesn’t mean it lacks meaning What’s the point of

curiosity but a train rolling past the spot where the Donner


Party feasted n then go on a four hour Wikipedia downward

spiral I’m the closest thing to a mime parade I whisper, home


late tiptoeing down the creaky hallway tryin not to wake my

roommates Nice chicken parm, sluts, I say to my fingers at


lunch Dissociation is evacuating from the inside I just know

we’ll have a good time Junk: a relief map of yr traumas Dipping


yr whole arm into the bin of sunflower seeds I’m in my Shonda

Rhimes Year of Yes n so far it’s pretty freak Gave a beej 2 a


logger in town for a football game at his hostel (almost wrote

hostile) the old-fashioned way, as in I met him at a bar after


lingering eye contact No apps Told him I was writing this poem

Flush with success after only eating half the cheeseburger for


dinner For the first time in my life it wasn’t no burger or four

burgers Full on Rocky situation He said he was flattered every


time his gf’s gay friends grabbed his beer can Bacon-wrapped-

date-flavored Doritos The artifice of order Predictability,


measured time, present wrapping Order, Order, Pockets of

Order Or, Durham I dumped a boy from Raleigh today The


baton of Junk The dance whirls Whorls War Tortle Cut to mall

dressing room thousand outfits montage Ignorance as a tool to


revive the feeling of doing something new Junk has to be the

poem of our time Pointless accumulation Clinging to a million


denials Why do you need an assault rifle? What if radioactive

bears Buying in bulk Afraid of forgetting that night in 2007


when Chantal shouted jamiroquai is holding this party

together!!!! Junk is the garbage ppl keep

Don Share: And it goes on (LAUGHING) at considerable and wonderful length in the magazine so don’t miss it. It’s a great project, isn’t it, to redeem junk? Especially living in a junk society, a junk culture with false news and all sorts of other things you can just imagine. The energy is wonderful and delightful, and oddly reassuring to me. I think Ammons did this too. You say, what is the biggest work of redemption to be done, and you look at what is being refused, what’s discarded, what’s cluttering up things and you repurpose it. That’s the artists job. But it’s witty, and when you hear this excerpt from it, you’re inclined to laugh a lot, which is a great delight of the poem. But I think there are very serious things here too.

Tommy Pico: Ignorance as a tool to


revive the feeling of doing something new Junk has to be the

poem of our time Pointless accumulation Clinging to a million


denials Why do you need an assault rifle?

Don Share: That’s about as apt an indictment of the situation we’re in as I can possibly imagine. Although it’s a long poem, it’s built out of many succinct and apt moments.

Lindsay Garbutt: What I love about it is it’s not jut physical clutter as you mention, lava lamps or clothes or old food what not. There’s also a mental junk, all those memories you have that you don’t know why you still have them.

Tommy Pico: Afraid of forgetting that night in 2007


when Chantal shouted jamiroquai is holding this party


Lindsay Garbutt: And then also all the things you just randomly overhear in the street, or random memories you have. It’s such a beautiful collection of all these moments that are really, as you say Don, what make up our modern lives. We think of people holding on to junk as having some sort of problem, that they need to purge all this extra stuff they have. It’s often credited as something like my mom never threw anything away, so I never throw anything away. As you said, there’s a very serious undertone to this, and he makes it explicit later on:

Tommy Pico: I’m descended from a group whose culture history

language gods cosmology calendar stories government gait was


capital “O” Obliterated

Lindsay Garbutt: So it’s not just that he’s hoarding these memories and these things purely for personal pleasure, there’s also a sort of trauma underneath all this.

Christina Pugh: Yeah, that seems to address this idea that junk is almost a character or an idea that keeps getting redefined. I’m just thinking from what you said Lindsay about this line, “Junk: a relief map of yr traumas”. The way that these couplets take place, and the way that they move, they’re actually moving without punctuation but they are employing capital letters to signify the beginning of some kind of a different clause. Junk gets capitalized a lot. When you keep hitting on that capitalized junk, you start to think of junk as a character or an entity. It’s name is junk, in a certain way. It becomes “junkery” at a certain point. It seems it’s a creating as it keeps getting repeated. It’s almost like it’s rolling in all this cultural detritus that the poet here is in one way perhaps lamenting and in another way taking delight in. I guess that’s what makes this such an interesting longer poem, is that it begins with the thousands of Yazidi girls missing. Even from the opening, you know that there’s a consciousness of what’s missing, what’s wrong. But then it relics into things like the party, the doritos and the beer and all the pleasure taking things he has.

Don Share: What’s conspicuously missing is justice. It’s remarkable, because the poem is an act of resistance, which it describes shortly after the lines Lindsay quoted about obliteration:

Tommy Pico: I’ll stop writing this when it stops hap-

pening So when I “get” anything it’s hard to let go Resisting


death for generations, I want to make the opposite of death

Don Share: The way resistance works, you can’t just throw away everything and have nothing. You have to work with what you’re given, you have to work with what’s there. There is no blank slate. If you believe there’s a blank slate, there isn’t history any more. That to me is why this poet in such a special way here is able to pull this off so very well and so remarkably, because I think our tendency is to want to say history is junk too, let’s get rid of it. I don’t want to think about it, I didn’t do it, I wasn’t here when that happened. People look around for their denial and excuses as the poem documents. But by these acts of accretion and organization, the poem is saying yes you were here, we are all here, you know what I’m talking about. I think people looking back on the poem, it’s juicy in it’s energy. It’s almost like you can rebuild a certain kind of urban area that we can picture all too well with this. It’s almost like we can reconstruct something of our own atmospheres from this writing. So paradoxically, instead of the poem being junk it turns into something valuable, and something we preserved. You can excerpts from “Junk” by Tommy Pico in the January 2017 issue of Poetry Magazine, or online at

Lindsay Garbutt: You’ve been listening to the weekly version of the Poetry Magazine Podcast. We’ll have another episode for you next week, or you can get them all at once all at once on the full length episode on Soundcloud.

Christina Pugh: Let us know what you thought about this program. Email us at [email protected], and please link to the podcast on social media.

Don Share: The Poetry Magazine Podcast is recorded by Ed Herman and produced by Curtis Fox.

Lindsay Garbutt: The theme music for this poem comes from the Claudia Quintet. I’m Lindsay Garbutt.

Christina Pugh: I’m Christina Pugh.

Don Share: And I’m Don Share. Thanks for listening.

The editors discuss excerpts Tommy Pico's poem "Junk" from the January 2017 issue of Poetry.

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