The Operating System

6th ANNUAL NAPOMO 30/30/30 :: DAY 26 :: Aaron Goldsman on Tommy Pico

HAPPY POETRY MONTH, FRIENDS AND COMRADES!
For this, the 6th Annual iteration of our beloved Poetry Month 30/30/30 series/tradition, I asked four poets (and previous participants) to guest-curate a week of entries, highlighting folks from their communities and the poets who’ve influenced their work.

I’m happy to introduce Janice Sapigao, Johnny Damm, Phillip Ammonds, and Stephen Ross, who have done an amazing job gathering people for this year’s series! We’re so excited to share this new crop of tributes with you. Hear more from our four guest editors in the introduction to this year’s series.

Hungry for more? there’s 150 previous entries from past years here! You should also check out Janice’s piece on Nayyirah Waheed, Johnny’s piece on Raymond Roussel, Phillip’s piece on Essex Hemphill, and Stephen’s piece on Ronald Johnson’s Ark, while you’re at it.

This is a peer-to-peer system of collective inspiration! No matriculation required.
Enjoy, and share widely.

– Lynne DeSilva-Johnson, Managing Editor/Series Curator 

WEEK 4 :: CURATED BY STEPHEN ROSS
The community of poets and scholars convened here for the OS’s National Poetry Month has never existed, as far as I know, in the same geographical or electronic space. Yet I’m moved to see that the members of this new community (excluding the New Yorkers) all hail from the places I’ve lived that mean the most to me: Montreal, the UK Midlands, North Carolina, Georgia. I canvassed old friends and new acquaintances, as well as friends of friends, to contribute to this year’s Poetry Month, and am delighted to find how meaningfully the contributions resonate with each other. These mutually reinforcing energies are not simply a matter of aesthetic and/or political affinities between the poet-scholars and their poets, but emerge from each contributor’s recognition and appreciation of the particulars of their chosen poet. 

Contributions by Charles Gonsalves (on Barbara Guest), Sarah Huener (on Eileen Myles), and Aaron Goldsman (on Tommy Pico) span three generations of what some might still be pleased to call the New York School–which generation are we on now? Other contributors attend to the limits of poetics: Klara DuPlessis reflects eloquently on Anne Carson’s (de)creative refusal to finish a book, while Zohar Atkins ponders William Bronk’s endless rewriting of the same poem. Aaron Belz’s tribute to Robert Bly’s translations of César Vallejo speaks to the winding, unpredictable process of poetic influence.
Stephen Ross is a literary scholar, translator, and editor. He earned his PhD in English from the University of Oxford in 2013 and is a founding editor of the literary web-journal, Wave Composition. With Ariel Resnikoff, he is working on the first-full length translation and critical edition of Mikhl Likht’s Yiddish modernist long-poem, Processions. He is a contributing editor for The Operating System’s Unsilenced Texts series, and also co-editor with Dr. Alys Moody of the forthcoming anthology, Global Modernists on Modernism (Bloomsbury, 2017), a 190,000-word sourcebook that draws on a large archive of historical materials — statements, manifestos, letters, prefaces, introductions, hybrid works, etc — by modernist practitioners across the arts, with a special focus on untranslated, poorly disseminated (in English), and ‘forgotten’ texts. His current book project is a study of modern American poetics and objecthood.

Aaron Goldsman on Tommy Pico

I first fell in love with the long poem reading, of all things, Charlotte Smith’s Beachy Head, which I devoured in a second-hand paperback edition way back when. An early Romantic poem of place, it takes its reader on a breakneck tour through the rocky promontory on the Dover coast from which the poem takes its name. Flying cinematically over the landscape at one moment, diving deep into fossil-filled layers of sedimentary rock the next, this profoundly strange work captures a key part of the long poem’s magic. Capable of managing wandering breadth and intense depth at once, the long poem, at its best, is a gorgeous sandbox of panoramic views and minute details, all strung together along the vibrating thread of the poem’s line of thought.

From Smith, I ran (inevitably) into Whitman, and from there, the long poem factory of High Modernism. Eliot and Pound never thrilled me, except perhaps for the spiked pathos of the addled genius pacing his sunbaked Pisan cage. Williams’s Paterson was more hospitable, and even more so, Stein’s bottomless toy boxes and the hermetic mysteries of H.D.’s revisionist mythologies. My crush on the long poem took on a renewed intensity when I fell, hard, for the New York School: peering with Ashbery into Parmigianino’s convex mirror; kaleidoscoping down Second Avenue with O’Hara; and playing table tennis with Joe Brainard over a net dividing the general and the particular, the ball bouncing to the rhythm of his anaphoric remembrances. Most of all, I was—and am—entranced by James Schuyler’s long poems. I’ve spent many a blissful hour at Jimmy’s knee, savoring the mix of just-right description, avuncular admonition, and tender bitchiness that push his wending lines along.

I think Jimmy would have liked my latest long poem love, IRL by Tommy “Teebs” Pico. Published just last year, Pico’s book-length shudder—of pain, of pleasure, disgust, and desire—picks up on some of the best aspects of his predecessors’ work, and carries a manic charge all its own. As his title suggests, Pico is particularly interested in the confusing, often wavering line between “real life” and the Internet, our IRL selves and the social media proxies that sometimes seem to be elbowing their flesh-and-blood counterparts into the wings. If this sounds too much like a New York Times think piece, fear not. Pico isn’t here to lecture you, neither wagging a finger at text-happy millennials nor heralding the mediated world of the virtual as a utopia to come. Pico is just trying to survive, and maybe, get us all off in the process.

I imagine Schuyler—no stranger to thwarted passion, and who (thank goodness for us) never met a flower he didn’t like—nodding sagely over Pico’s lines:

……………………………..It’s
summer, I think, and I hate
nature bc every poem
is like Poplars and Bunch
Grasses and Peonies
and shit, but the East River
is ambling outside my window
like holding hands with Stevie Nicks:
so beautiful, right, but also
deafening, and kinda
scary, and I feel small
online and in real life
bc there’s my body
and then there’s your body,
and I don’t think anybody’s
coming over tonight.

Alongside his ambivalent pursuit of love in the arms of—appropriately enough—a shifting target he calls Muse, Pico weaves in reflections on the struggle of a young, indigenous queer trying to knock some sense into a life lived partly online and partly in Brooklyn. Most fascinating, perhaps, is the sharp take he offers on the dilemma of the native informant in an age of constant over-sharing, in which the imperative to turn oneself inside out for the delectation of others falls especially heavily on people of color. How navigate a culture of confession when your “truth” has long been commodified, mythologized, and violently effaced by centuries of history?

…………….We know you ppl
are only interested in the stories we
gift—fair weather, thrill
seeking. Not concern Not
are you well nourished
Not are you currently suffering
any chronic illness Not
are you beaten at home Not how
many of your relatives killed
themselves. No that would be
too personal. Irresponsible. Out
of the scope of. Too sticky
icky no no. Just convert
to Catholicism then they’ll
leave us alone, right?

In Pico’s hands, the Internet becomes the latest phase in the long history of settler colonialism. Personal information is strip-mined and expropriated for maximum profit. The psychic interior is territorialized as a form of personal property. The pushers come up with new digital addictions for us daily, and we pay them for the privilege. “I’m horrified / at the Internet,” Pico writes, “like alcoholism— / oppressive and consuming / occupier god.”

Even at his most acerbic, though, Pico’s writing is infused with a debauched sensibility that I can’t resist. His breathless style has the exquisite quality of autoerotic asphyxiation, blending pleasure and danger, and held back from the edge by a tart, citric acid kick. Most of all, Pico reminds us what poetry often knows: that in every public statement is buried a furtive, private address. Just ask Sean Spicer, sweating his way through yet another humiliating, mendacious press conference, seeming to address “the people” but in fact speaking only to the petty tyrant fuming in the Oval Office, glowering at the TV as Spicer debases himself on Fox News. Not the most flattering comparison, granted, but we are often in the same awkward boat online, posting to the world at large to catch the attention of that one special someone we hope won’t scroll by too fast to notice. Teebs, play us out:

Leaving yr status
up to the feed, open
to the scroll, who do you
want knowing you r suicidal?
The obvi answer is every-
body, but the whisper
is more
particular.
Ppl lean in.
Who do you really want
spying on you with milk-
shake in Valencia
filter? Who r you trying
not to text talk To see u
flawless on Lake Sebago?
Who deserves
to be bombed
in selfies? What texture
of the grey audience puts
the “firm” in “affirming”?
Hi, sorry, what’s the wifi
password?

Aaron Goldsman is a PhD candidate in the Department of English at Emory University. He specializes in postwar U.S. poetry and queer theory. His introduction to the writing of Joe Brainard recently appeared in the latest supplement to Scribner’s American Writers series.

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