I picked up a glorious junk drawer of a book-length poem at the library last month: Junk, by Tommy Pico. All in couplets, it covers the end of a relationship, the beginning of a unified theory of junk, and what it is to exist in relation to America and capitalism in 2018.
The engine of capitalism:
dope, dicks misc bullshit Junk is its accumulation Not as
indistinct as "thing" not as dramatic as "trash" It's important
to value the Junk, Junk has the best stories
I got to watch Tommy Pico read from the beginning of the book in early June. The poem seemed to unfurl out of him like the flag of a new loud nation. It swerves from funny to sorrowful and everywhere in between. In the Q&A after he talked about how he took the ancient technology of the couplet, stuffed it with junk and now it was art. I took heart.
Sometimes I feel that I will never be a notable poet but I will be a decent accumulator of scraps: little moments I notice. And through the ancient miraculous technology of poetic form (and through much hard work and intention) scraps like the ones I scribble down each day become something worth reading. Once you put things in relation to each other, they become something more. As a segment towards the end of Junk repeats: it's never just about the night in question.
I found so much tenderness in this poem, in lines like:
I don't want to eat apples from the tree in the yard of the neighborhood of that feeling anymore
which struck me like a kind of meditation to absolve yourself of unhappiness.
Junk is also about memory - personal and historical. Tommy Pico is from the Viejas Indian Reservation of the Kumeyaay Nation in southern California and northern Mexico. Junk meditates on being a young person from an old nation whose history was destroyed:
Do you ever wish you cd just be
always one self? "Whole" is a privilege and a pedestal
I lived in another country I had abandon More James Baldwin
than Ernest Hemingway Fearless exploring denied
Kumeyaays for all of recorded history It means something
ancestral when you've been penned in for generations I didn't
believe the sun could set at 10 pm Fearless is wrong Not fear
conquered but fear seen, lived alongside…
I'm drawn to "I had abandon" and the examination of fear and fearlessness in this passage - as if abandon and fearlessness were commodities you could receive. Here in America, which is, Pico writes "all action, no memory", we can all be fearless - because we have to live together alongside fear. I think about how different people negotiate their fears, worries, and neuroses a lot: the coping strategies, or lack of them, that make us act the way we do.
I had also read Pico's previous book IRL last year. Like Junk, it contains swerves into aphoristic, universal truths, including:
survival and privacy
do not hold hands in times
of conflict, which includes not
having been laid in a minute
The opposition between survival and privacy struck me as prescient: to live, there are certain things you must disclose. You have to open the junk drawer of yourself to someone else, every once in a while. And that can be both painful and liberating.
In the final couplets of Junk, the poem releases its subject:
Is a poem about Junk itself merely
an accumulation of doomsday and birth certificates If part of
Junk is letting go, partly Junk is letting go of you…
The recurring reason given for the letting go of the relationship in Junk is seeing:
I thought the point of seeing each other
was to see each other How is being seen by me a bad thing?
he writes plaintively. But you can't think or see your way to a relationship, with all its vulnerability and cracks. There is so much compromise, so much difficulty. And some fear. Junk often captured the feeling of not knowing how things stand between you and someone you care about, flailing through moments in your memory. And yet it's bigger and more wonderful than any breakup. There is so much junk floating around in each of our heads. I'm glad this book documents some of the intricate and particular pieces of it.
Write back anytime. I'm always excited to talk about books and feelings and junk I found on the street.