Review: “Nature Poem” by Tommy Pico


Release Date: May 9, 2017
Publisher: Tin House
Genre: Poetry


“Nature Poem follows Teebs—a young, queer, American Indian (or NDN) poet—who can’t bring himself to write a nature poem. For the reservation-born, urban-dwelling hipster, the exercise feels stereotypical, reductive, and boring. He hates nature. He prefers city lights to the night sky. He’d slap a tree across the face. He’d rather write a mountain of hashtag punchlines about death and give head in a pizza-parlor bathroom; he’d rather write odes to Aretha Franklin and Hole. While he’s adamant—bratty, even—about his distaste for the word “natural,” over the course of the book we see him confronting the assimilationist, historical, colonial-white ideas that collude NDN people with nature. The closer his people were identified with the “natural world,” he figures, the easier it was to mow them down like the underbrush. But Teebs gradually learns how to interpret constellations through his own lens, along with human nature, sexuality, language, music, and Twitter. Even while he reckons with manifest destiny and genocide and centuries of disenfranchisement, he learns how to have faith in his own voice.

My Thoughts


Despite the fact that I willingly read and am now reviewing a collection of poems, I don’t actually like poetry all that much. I don’t dislike it by any means. I can appreciate the immense skill it takes to craft a poem, but it’s just not my jam, you know? But I’m a sucker for a good recommendation, and when a colleague slathered Nature Poem with effusive praise, I couldn’t help but acquire a copy. I wasn’t expected to be blown away. I figured it’d be interesting on an intellectual level but that was about it. And here I am writing a review about how remarkable it was. Who would’ve thought?

And let me make this very clear: Nature Poem is a gorgeous body of work. It functions in many ways like a collection of short stories about the life of one man. Teebs isn’t necessarily struggling with his queer Indigenous identity but dealing with how that identity fits into the modern world. He’s challenged by the conflict between his own identity and how other people perceive it, particularly how others’ perspectives both uphold and deconstruct colonial narratives.

The poems vary from sad to sweet, funny to crude, abrasive to endearing. I may not know anything about poetry, but I know how Tommy Pico’s words made me feel. I came away from Nature Poem lost in his words. This collection is beautiful and moving. It’s good to be reminded to step outside my literary comfort zone from time to time and try something new. And while I still wouldn’t call myself a poetry fan, I’m definitely a fan of Tommy Pico’s.

Men smack

the monoliths in Mosul back to stone and dust. I’m devastated
in the midst of Vicodin

Thank god for colonialist plundering, right? At least some of these artifacts remain intact behind glass, says History

Kumeyaay burial urns dug from context, their ashes dumped and placed
on display at the Museum of Man. Casket art, mantelpieces in SoCal
social well-to-do living rooms

A warden is seldom welcomed, I say.

Lives flicker, says History.

I, too, wd like a monument, says Ego.

Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or borrow it from your public library.

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